Monday, May 16, 2022

Microstory 1886: Gone Away

I spent years looking for a decent job after high school. I mean, based on my skill set, I had a number of okay ones over the years, but none that would really support me the way I felt I deserved. When I did get that job, I was cheated out of some of what I was owed. It came with two weeks of vacation time, but in order to save money, my supervisor chose to not inform me of this fact. He went even further than that by claiming that I didn’t qualify for time off under this and that policy. When his boss found out, she was livid. By then, I had worked for the company for eleven years, which meant I actually should have started getting four weeks off per year. Normally, they didn’t carry over, but through some maneuvering, they gave them to me all at once. That was a total of nineteen weeks when all added up. The only thing was that I had to take them off by the end of the current year. Which essentially meant I had to leave right away. In fact, she tacked on an extra week to round out the number, and just not have me come back in until January of the next year. What was I going to do with all that time? It was over four and a half months. I wasn’t making a whole lot of money, so it’s not like that freed me up to go on a cross country tour, or a cruise. The best idea I had was to go visit my cousins who lived on the border. I didn’t get a chance to see them very much, so this was a great opportunity for a cheap, but still relaxing, sabbatical. I didn’t sublet my little house, because that wasn’t really a thing in the region. I just locked it up and left. I did ask my neighbor to bring my trash cans back up to the house one last time, which he agreed to do with a smile. I had my mail forwarded, and went on my way.

When I came back, the place was dusty as hell, but everything was otherwise fine. The trash cans were where they were meant to be, and some mail was already waiting for me in my normal box, as planned. I still had that last week of time off, so it was time to clean up. I used a lot of disinfecting wipes. Plus, there was some fruit in the fridge that I forgot to toss. And a loaf of bread in the pantry. And some other food in the fridge. Okay, it was a mess, but that’s not the point. The point is I had to gather all that up, and take it out to my cans. At first when I opened the lid, I didn’t know what I was looking at. I was in such shock, I couldn’t process it. I didn’t scream, or jump back in horror. I just stared at the body, trying to piece together what it was. Only after I realized the truth did the smell hit me. It should have been my first clue, I don’t know why it waited so long to waft up to my nose, but I did have to slam the lid shut, and step back. I still didn’t scream, though. I’m not that kind of girl. Assuming that I would be prime suspect, I contacted the authorities, and let them come out and investigate. To my surprise, they didn’t even consider me as the culprit. Even before they had all this evidence with my mail forwarding, and corroboration from my cousins, and other people, they believed me that I wasn’t the murderer. By the way, the victim was my neighbor, and they said he had been stuffed in there for about four and a half months, which suggested the killer did the deed around the time he was trying to help me out. I had to move, which was fine, because I was fired after three days of missing my return to work due to the trauma. I just couldn’t live in that house anymore, and I had encountered a few originally ignored job opportunities where my cousins lived, so I figured I could just go straight back. That was almost four decades ago. They never found the killer.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 5, 2394

Skylar led the team into the building, and up the elevators, which was a tight squeeze with her bodyguards. As the sister of the apparent leader of the entire metropolis, it was understandable that she needed to be protected. The only weird part was that they made no attempt to pat the team down, or assess them as a threat in any way. Perhaps they just knew enough about the future.
They spilled out at the top floor, and headed to the left for the Night President’s Office. This should be interesting, learning why there was a different president for each half of the day. Skylar nodded to her guards as they entered the Night Vice President’s Office. They stayed outside by the door, and gave them some privacy. Instead of sitting at her desk, she chose a chair in the center of the room, and had everyone choose a spot on one of the two couches. “I don’t normally work here. By design, we’re usually kept separate to insulate against a discontinuity of government. We knew you would head here for help first, though, and at the moment, my brother has to sleep, so I’m the only one available.”
“This sounds like a fascinating form of government,” Ramses pointed out. “Night and day?”
Skylar laughed. “It’s by necessity. One of us wanted to run for office, and the others sort of had to follow suit. We never thought we would win, because of our unusual situation, but the people seem cool with it, and we’re making it work.”
“You’re making what work?” Marie asked. “What’s your situation?”
“We’re gargoyles,” she answered. They had seen a lot over the years, but a stone monster person would be a first. She giggled again. “A specific kind of gargoyle. Oliver and I are the originals. We were born this way. It’s what the powers that be chose for us. Due to a series of unlikely events, we transferred our patterns to Kostya and Lucy, except diametrically. We only exist between sundown and sunrise. They only exist between sunrise and sundown.”
“So you can’t cooperate?” Leona noted.
“We leave each other messages. That’s not the issue.”
Olimpia tilted her head, and twitched an eye. “Love,” she guessed.
Skylar nodded. “Oliver loves Lucy, and she him. They haven’t seen each other in person in a very long time. There’s one way that we could do it, but...there’s an obstacle. That’s what we were hoping you would be able to help us with.” She checked her watch. “It’ll have to be next year, but...would you be willing?”
“Depends on what it is,” Mateo said cautiously.
“Of course,” Skylar said understandingly. “You’ve heard of the Salmonday Club?”
“Yeah,” they answered, except for Angela and Marie.
“It adds an extra day between Saturday and Sunday,” Leona explained to them. “It exists within a pocket dimension of extra temporal energy. Clubgoers spend one minute inside, but it feels like twenty-four hours.”
“People run in when the timer starts,” Ramses continued, “and rush back out before time runs out at the end.”
“Wait,” Angela said. “What happens if they don’t get out in time?”
“They jump to the end of the next week,” Leona answered. “If you never left the club, it would always be Salmonday for you, and you would basically live for fifty-two days a year. Their pattern would be not unlike ours.” She turned back to Vice President Spout. “Is that why you think we can help, because of our pattern?”
“No, it’s because we don’t have any teleporters left,” Skylar clarified. “The obstacle is pretty simple, you should be able to jump past it, and once inside, you can shut it down. If you can do this for us, we can get you back to the main sequence.”
“You say obstacle like you don’t wanna talk about what it really is,” Olimpia realized.
“It’s an abyss,” Skylar said. “Some of that temporal energy escaped, and formed a cloud around the entrances to the club. Fortunately it has never spread farther, because that would be bad. We don’t know how slow time moves inside, but it’s very slow. We can see people just stuck there in place. There’s a way to purge it, but again, it’s inside the club, and we can’t reach it. You wouldn’t just be helping my brother and the love of his life touch each other once more. You would be freeing all the innocent curious people, and the volunteers, who have been trapped for decades.”
“Why do we have to wait until next year?” Angela asked. “We still have a few hours left before midnight central.”
“All four leaders have to sign off on it,” Skylar began, “and the other three refuse to do so until they meet you. If we had known exactly where you were going to show up, we could have planned it better, but unfortunately, our seer wasn’t that specific. So here’s what will happen—if you agree to even entertain the idea—”
“We’ll do it,” Leona answered plainly. There was no doubt about it. This was right in their wheelhouse, especially now that they were full-fledged teleporters.
“That would be great. Just so you understand, I’ve met you, I sign off. I’m easy. I trust our seers, and the historical records that have recounted your dealings with the Fourth Quadrant, and other points in spacetime. Next year, when you come back, it will be nighttime again, and you can meet Oliver. Come sunrise, you can meet with Lucy and Kostya. Does that sound fair?”
“What are the chances they won’t sign off?” Mateo asked her.
Skylar sighed. “Nearly zero. I think this is more of a CYA operation. We need the citizens—the voters—to know that we didn’t just send a team of strangers to a hazardous temporal anomaly, on a potentially dangerous mission, without so much as shaking your hands.”
“Okay, we’ll do it,” Leona repeated.
“You don’t need to discuss it?” Skylar pressed.
“We can feel each other’s emotions,” Mateo divulged. “We’re all in. We would know if there was any reluctance amongst us.”
“Very well,” Skylar said, standing back up. “I’m just now realizing, though, that we did not factor in any rest time for you. You can wait to meet my brother until later. It just can’t be after 6:56. Well, it needs to be reasonably before that. I suppose we could—”
“We’re fine,” Leona interrupted again. “We don’t need very much sleep anymore either.”
“Brilliant,” Skylar said. “I wish I had that luxury. I only exist an average of twelve hours a day, but I still need to sleep at least seven.”
The team looked around at each other, particularly Ramses and Leona.
“What? What is it?”
“The way we understand it,” Ramses started to say, “the powers that be have no control over salmon once they cross into other realities, like this one.”
“I assure you, we are still bound to our pattern.”
“Yes, you are,” Leona presumed, “but there might be a way around that. Our pattern, for instance, was encoded into our neurology. Take it away from us, and we’re no longer us. This is tantamount to murder or suicide. But that was done to us by a man...a very powerful man. We’ve not been beholden to the PTB for years. The fact that our current pattern matches the original one was deliberate and arbitrary. He could just as easily have chosen some other random pattern.”
“What are you saying?” Skylar sat back down, curious. “This man could do the same for us, but change our pattern?”
“Oh, no,” Mateo said. “We wouldn’t have you deal with him. It would be us. Well, it would be Ramses and Leona.”
Ramses reached into his bag, and retrieved an object that resembled an ancient wireless cellphone charging stand. He set it on Skylar’s coffee table. It looked wholly unremarkable, but it was incredibly advanced. “This is called a nanoforge, specifically a lab creator. I might need to tweak it a little bit, but the last time I used it, it was for the same thing you’ll need. It’s mostly automated, but you’ll have to provide it with raw materials, and it’ll let you know what those are. It can build a cloning laboratory, based on the number of gestational pods you require, and the speed of development you wish to wait for. You can then transfer your respective consciousnesses to your new bodies, and if all goes well, you’ll leave your patterns behind. You’ll be a salmonfree you.”
Skylar was shocked. “You would do this for us? You would grant us this technology?”
“It comes with an expiration date,” Leona clarified. “You won’t be able to keep it. The lab will literally implode, as well as the forge. We’re not in the habit of interfering with the development of a given culture. We don’t know what you would do with cloning tech if you don’t already have it. If you would like to invent it yourself afterwards, we won’t stop you, but we’re not going to let you just jump into it...except to help the four of you this once.”
“Of course we’ll still shut off your weird time cloud,” Olimpia reminded her. “It’s not an either-or thing.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
Ramses took out his tablet, and paired it with the nanoforge. “I’ll stay here to program it. The rest of you should scout the location.”
“Yes,” Leona agreed.
“Why don’t you...?” Skylar began, but trailed off out of seeming embarrassment.
“Go ahead and say it,” Mateo encouraged.
“Would you consider just staying here? We do have a way to get you back to the main reality, but I think you six could do quite well here, and you’re always welcome.”
It was certainly a thought to think on, but they had already considered it as an option while they were still in the Fifth Division. They didn’t leave because of any particular danger they were in. They were always in danger. They wanted to return home. Leona was about to say as much when a feeling she received from Mateo changed her approach. “We’ll talk about it. Thanks for the offer.”
They teleported away, except for Ramses, who was working on the nanoforge, and Marie, who felt like sticking around.”
The next day was as breezy as Skylar made it sound. They met with her brother, Oliver soon after returning to the timestream. They then waited several hours, when the two of them were stuck in impenetrable time bubbles, and the other two were free of theirs. Apparently, each one lasted a few seconds, but spanned roughly half a day. It didn’t matter what time of year it was, or where they were. Their pattern was coded to this region, according to the rotation of the Earth. Sunrise and sunset times changed every day, and their patterns changed with them. Winters were better for the night team, but summers were better for the day team. One day, they would be free of all that, and that day was going to come sooner than they could have imagined. The cloning process was going to take years to complete the safest way, but there was a workaround in the meantime. In fact, it could be a permanent solution if that was what they chose.
Fixing the Salmonday Club temporal issue was easy too. The emergency shutoff button was exactly where everyone said it would be, in the manager office. Mateo and Marie teleported in alone, pressed it, and the nightmare was over. It was no longer a club for Salmonday. They could start it back up again, but would probably just demolish the place. The intention was to repurpose it as a neutral zone for the two disparate leadership factions to reunite periodically, but they shouldn’t need it anymore.
Shortly before sunset, and after ensuring that the leak was repaired, they flipped the dimension back on, and let Kostya and Lucy inside. Once the Spouts were back, Olimpia and Leona transported them there too. After witnessing the heartfelt reunion between them, Leona presented them with four Cassidy cuffs. “Unlike the laboratory, these will not self-destruct. They can also not be reprogrammed according to your whims. They’ll work with your DNA only. You can’t even swap them among each other.” She handed each one to the salmon, careful to make sure she didn’t get them mixed up. “All you’ll be able to do is suppress your pattern. They’re not communicators, they’re not teleporters. I left the clock on there, but that’s it. They’re all juiced up, and should last you centuries. You’ll probably have to transfer your consciousnesses to other substrates to survive that long anyway.
“Thank you,” Lucy said graciously.
“Thanks to all of you,” Kostya added.
“The seer did not predict any of this,” Oliver said.
“I’m sure they saw it coming,” Leona figured. “They just didn’t tell you about it. They like to withhold.”
Skylar frowned, and hastily attached her cuff to her wrist. “Put them on,” she ordered the other three. Put them on now.”
“It’s okay,” Leona said. “There’s no rush. I mean, it’s fine, but...”
“It’s not fine,” Skylar said in an apologetic tone. “We’ve been withholding as well. We can’t get you back to the main sequence. That’s never been something we could do. We probably would have had migration with those kinds of capabilities. Our technology has grown, since we sped up time to match that of true Earth, but we didn’t advance as fast as them, I’m sure. I’m sorry, we lied.”
The team smiled. “We know.”
“You do?” Oliver asked.
“We’re good at reading microexpressions,” Marie told them.
“You’re not mad?” Lucy asked.
“Don’t inspire anger in them,” Kostya advised.
“Really, it’s all right,” Leona assured them. “We’ll find a way eventually.”
“Eventually has come!” came a voice from across the room.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Extremus: Year 44

Cloning and self-duplication are not illegal in the stellar neighborhood, which serves Earth at its center. It’s not even technically illegal on Extremus, but it’s effectively so, because some of the technology required to make either of such things happen have indeed been outlawed. Kaiora jumped through a lot of legal loopholes to institute the Clone and Consciousness Transference team within the secret quarantined section of the ship that she’s been working with. It’s all above board, though of course, not public knowledge. She originally authorized it in order to study the impostors that are running around unchecked, but she made sure to have the ability to use it herself should the need arise. Hindsight being what it is, she’s convinced herself that this was probably her plan all along. She always knew she was going to pretend to have an impostor. It’s an incredibly risky plan, as the whole idea behind the secret quarantine in the first place is to keep it...well, secret. She doesn’t want to cause a panic, but this may be the only way. Elodie’s duplicate detection program using the security cameras will only supposedly find two copies of the same person. It won’t help them understand where the impostors are coming from, or who’s responsible. It won’t even work at all if the impostor killed or stashed the original.
The scientists have been hard at work, ensuring that the technology they’re using is sound and safe. Just like everyone else on the secret team, these are not the best that Extremus has to offer. All of those people are busy being rock stars who would look quite appetizing to a group of impostors looking to disrupt the status quo. Still, they’re good enough, and it only took them the rest of the year to be confident enough to let Kaiora create a copy of herself. This copy is not an automaton that’s just going to stand there and take orders. She is the real Kaiora, as the original is also real. They both carry the same memories, the same personality, and the same claim to the captain’s chair. Again, duplicating itself isn’t against the law, but in this case, it might as well be. Even suggesting that they’re both in charge of the ship and crew is basically blasphemy. Can you imagine how dangerous it would be if this got out of hand? Kaiora could copy herself dozens of times, outman the rest of the crew alone, and use their position to take over completely. No, no one will be able to let this stand. She’s about to lose her job, but it will have been worth it if it works. She doesn’t know if Halan would be proud, or disappointed that she followed in his footsteps towards a treasonous act.
It’s March of 2313 now, and the two Kaioras have been successfully running the show in tandem with each other for the last four months. No one has noticed. Elodie’s detection program has caught them perfectly every day, but the public hasn’t spoken up about any discrepancies. They’re not even working that hard to make sure they avoid running into each other. They do, to be sure, because a real impostor would do just that, but she was worried over nothing about how difficult that would turn out to be. She probably could have entrusted the mission to any idiot. The hope is that only another impostor—or someone else involved in the impostor insurrection—will take notice before anyone else, and pull them aside quietly. This is why they can’t force an encounter with each other. They have resigned themselves to the possibility that someone else will realize instead, and make a big stink about it. That might still give an impostor the opportunity to step in, but Kaiora’s career will have been ruined regardless.
The impostor hunting team has no normal way to reach out to Kaiora if they need to speak with her. The entire purpose of the quarantine is to keep them isolated from society. If they can communicate with people on the outside, the integrity of the mission is lost. Still, Kaiora needs to know if there’s an emergency, so she’s decided to trust one person. Mediocre hacker, Elodie Seabrooke has control over all of the ship’s cameras, which she uses to look for duplicates. These cameras do not have speakers, or blinking lights, but they do have apertures.
When this aperture is adjusted, it makes a very faint noise, just as you would expect. Any given camera has no reason to adjust the aperture, because it operates best at a wide angle to close blindspots. They were only designed this way because it was a cheap and easy feature that they would rather have and not need, than need at some point, and not have. By opening and closing the aperture of the nearest cameras to Kaiora, Elodie can signal a return to base. This happening once means nothing, as it could simply be a normal security officer who is bored sitting at the monitors. But if the aperture noise makes a distinct pattern, and keeps happening with other cameras as Kaiora moves, then it means something.
Kaiora cancels her next meeting, which is fortunately not too important, and since it’s with her girlfriend, Ima will understand. Dr. Holmes doesn’t know anything about this. She knows she can’t know everything that the Captain deals with. Kaiora heads for the secret section, and opens the interior door.
Dr. Malone is there, just like he so often is. “Captain, I need to speak with you.”
“Did you summon me here?”
“No. How would I do that?”
“So you’ve just been hanging out by the door, like I’ve asked you a million times not to do.”
“It’s really urgent.”
“What’s really urgent is protocol. You’re making me think that you’re trying to look for a way to escape. There’s a reason I have to unlock two doors to get in here, and there’s a reason there’s nothing of note at the entrance which might excuse one of you ever being too close, and there is a reason we built a special hock in this section. Are you understanding me?”
“Sir.”
“Bye,” she says coarsely.
“Bye,” he echoes bitterly.
Kaiora enters Elodie’s room, and shuts the door behind her this time. It’s cleaner now than it was a year ago; organized and well lit. There’s a pleasant smell. “Please tell me you reached out.”
“I did, thanks for coming so quick,” Elodie replies.
“Did you find a duplicate?”
“More like a single-cate,” she says, knowing it’s a dumb joke. She navigates to the right screen, and turns the monitor so that Kaiora can see better.
Kaiora leans in close to get a good look. It’s an empty hallway at first, in what she knows to be a vacant section. It hasn’t been populated yet, because they don’t need the space yet. Then the door opens, and a figure steps out. His back is turned to the camera at first, but then he spins around. It’s Yitro Moralez. He has been on a mission off-ship for the last thirteen years. “Is this the first time you’re seeing him?”
“It’s the first time that I’m seeing him. I don’t know if the cameras spotted him before. I didn’t program them to flag other unusual activity; just duplicates. Once a week, I run a diagnostic on every single camera the ship has, even the dormant ones. It turns them on for several seconds if they aren’t already on. He just happened to step outside, and get flagged by the regular security system which checks for movement in dark sections.”
“Are those cameras back on now?”
“Yes,” Elodie answers, “but the feed is flowing directly through me. Security doesn’t recognize them as active.”
“But they saw him during the diagnostic. They saw those few seconds.”
Elodie waits a moment. “The system saw him, I don’t know if a human did. People use those sections all the time; teenagers wanting to fool around in private, people on long walks. Especially since you shut off all teleportation, people do have to cross out of an in-use area to get to one of these places, which means each subsequent camera can flip on to follow them. Lieutenant Moralez has to have been there for a very long time if this is the only camera that ever clocked him.”
“He’s a captain now,” Kaiora says. “Or he was, or he will be. We don’t know who that is. He could be a duplicate, or he could be here as a time traveler. We don’t know anything. All we know is that an entity who resembles him was at that very door in that very moment, for a few seconds. He could have his own form of teleportation that I don’t know about. That’s always been a possibility.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Your system is ready to flag him again if he ever shows up, correct?”
“Correct,” Elodie confirms.
“I’m going to investigate personally.”
“Are you going to tell the other you?”
“No, let her run the ship for now.” Kaiora leaves, and heads back for the exit.
Dr. Malone is waiting in the hallway yet again. “Captain, it’ll only take a second.”
“Guard!” Kaiora calls.
The one security officer she’s quarantined, runs up, wiping crumbs off of his lips.
“Place him in hock.”
“For how long?”
“Until I come back and change my mind.”
“Please, Captain! No!” Dr. Malone struggles, but is no physical match for the largest guard Kaiora could find. He never even trained for the job. His size and strength are the only reasons he’s here. The other subjects are finding this isolated life to be difficult, but he has thrived. It’s pretty easy to keep him happy.
Kaiora leaves the secret section, and heads for the other secret section. It’s been unused for the whole year, since the only purpose of it is to house the time machine, which they never intended to use again. Greenley is already there, like she’s been waiting. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to talk you out of it.”
The Captain points an accusing finger at the head temporal engineer. “You’re colluding with a seer.”
“I wouldn’t use that word,” Greenley defends. “It’s not nefarious. We’re trying to protect you. This machine is extremely dangerous. We’ve never seen anyone come back out of it. I wish we had never built it in the first place. Don’t..do this.”
Kaiora fumes. She has to go back to earlier today to intercept the supposed Yitro. It’s a necessary sacrifice. “I’m doing it. So turn it on, and do your job. That is an order.”

Friday, May 13, 2022

Microstory 1885: Put on Ice

Yesterday morning, I was walking my cat by the frozen river. Yes, I walk my cat. I know it’s weird, but he likes it, and I like it, so I don’t owe you an explanation. That’s not the point anyway. This is a story about how I nearly succumbed to death, and how that would have been okay, because I still would have saved a life in the process. The trail doesn’t run exactly parallel to the river—it bends away at places, to get around trees, and the like. As we were getting back towards it, I started hearing what I initially thought were birds. It was Buttons who heard it first, actually, he has such great hearing. I’m sure he knew right away that it was a human. Once I realized this myself, I dropped the leash, and left the trail. It was tough, getting through all the brambles and thorns, but I couldn’t wait until we got to a clearing, because then we would be too far upstream. Buttons followed me, he’s loyal too. Finally I reached the bank, and nearly slipped onto the ice myself, which may seem like it wouldn’t matter, because I was ending up out there anyway, but not right there. I discovered how unstable it was right there. I looked across, and saw a child on his stomach in the middle of the river. There was a rope swing nearby that kids use in the summer, so I assumed he came from that side. Irrelevant. He needed help, and there was no one else around, so I found my footing, and crawled out to retrieve him. I know now, you’re supposed to urge them to come to try to come to you, but he was so little. I tried talking to him, but he just kept crying. He wasn’t capable of meeting me halfway. Man, I wish I had been on that other side, though; then I could have thrown him the rope! Or maybe I would have tied it to myself, and been safer.

Well, crawling started feeling dangerous. I could hear the ice crack under my weight, so I decided to lie flat, and slide to him. I dug my fingernails into the top layer, hoping not to disrupt its integrity, and pulled myself closer little by little, ignoring the blood turning the snow red. He was facing away from me, so even though I kept talking to him, I didn’t think he knew I was on my way. Finally I was there. I took him in my arms, and together we kept going to the other side, because we weren’t exactly in the center. We were almost to the bank when the ice just fell out from under me. I held on as best I could, but the current was so strong underneath. The only thing I could do was push the boy forwards, and get him onto the ground. When he looked back, I told him to run for help, but it was too late. I was under. Another random citizen pulled my body out of the river more than twenty miles downstream, where the water was calmer, and not iced over. This was eleven hours later. He assumed that I was dead, but that didn’t stop him from beginning CPR, and having his niece call for help. The paramedics took over when they arrived, and my heart miraculously started beating again. I wasn’t conscious, but I was alive. They drove me to the hospital, where doctors continued treatment. I woke up several hours later, feeling terrible, but still alive. My family was all around me, crying because they thought they had lost me. They were all talking about how God saved me, and I don’t know about that, but I did feel lucky. My own niece was holding Buttons, having snuck him into the hospital in her purse. I was grateful that he was okay, but I told her to take him back home, because there are sick people here, and they don’t need any dirty animals. I was feeling tired just in time for visiting hours to be over, so I said goodbye to my family, and tried to get to sleep. But I never woke up.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Microstory 1884: Transience

Transient Retrograde Amnesia is what they call it. I can’t remember how long I’ve had it, or what caused it. And that’s not an amnesia joke. I can’t remember, because I’ve been suffering from it for a long time, and I just happen to not recall that far back in the past. Lots of people have that kind of poor memory without it being a symptom of some larger issue. Most of the time, I’m normal. I know who I am, and what I’ve done. I can form new memories, and I know whether I left the proverbial stove on. Of course, I don’t own a stove, on account of those periods of time when I don’t remember a thing. Sometimes I wake up, and I have no memory at all. It doesn’t always occur when I literally wake up, but that’s what it feels like; like everything that happened to me before was a dream that disappeared from my mind in a flash. I know stuff did indeed happen, but mostly probably because it must have happened, since I know that adults don’t just suddenly come into being. I know this, because my memory condition doesn’t affect semantic memory, which is the kind that tells me what an adult is, and what a baby is, and what words to use to describe them. My problem is all about events, plus the most basic information about myself. I can’t tell you my name, or what kind of upbringing I had, for instance. Even the most recent of things are gone. I don’t know where I am, or how I got there. When the attack is over, it all comes flooding back to me, including the time I spent in that state. So I remember how fearful and anxious I become each time. I’m talking about this like it’s in the present, but I’m happy to say that I’ve not had an attack in over a year, whereas before, it would happen nearly every day.

Like I said, I don’t own a stove. It’s not worth the risk to be out in the world when I could lose it all without warning. Medical professionals of all sorts have tried to figure out what prompts an attack. Is it stress? Fear? Reminder of a past trauma? There seems to be no link between them. There’s no temporal connection either; it happens at all times of the day. As far as anyone has been able to discern after studying me for decades, it’s completely random and unpredictable. So I live in a facility, where others take care of me, even while I don’t need it. That’s the most humiliating part. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, but they won’t let me do anything. I can’t blame them. I once had an attack while I was holding a knife. It was quite obvious that I was cutting vegetables with it, but my father was in the room, and I thought he could have been a threat. So over the years, little by little, my privileges have been taken away. It’s for my safety as much as anyone else’s. Again, I’m not going to forget what a knife is, or how it works, or which end is the hazardous one, but I obviously can’t be trusted with it anyway. In a way, I’m relieved that my body has been failing me recently. When you’re bedridden, and it’s difficult to move, people have to wait on you anyway. It feels natural now, expecting the nurse or orderly to come in and feed me, or take my vitals. That’s what they’re supposed to do, and they do it for everyone who lives long enough to die like this. It’s almost over now anyway. My spirit has pulled itself away from my body. I’m hovering over it, looking down at myself like it’s not me anymore, because it’s not. The man left on the bed is looking around, confused and lost. He doesn’t remember a thing. I can’t believe I’m witnessing my last attack as a ghost. I keep watching, knowing the other me can’t hurt himself, and that it won’t be long before he’s dead too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Microstory 1883: Air Band

I was just playing around at a college party once. Somebody put on a record with a song that, in my day, we called my jam. I started pretending I was playing a guitar to the music, and since I knew the track so well, people got really into it. Pretty soon I was up on the coffee table, entertaining everybody. I, by no means, invented the air guitar. I did, however, do it my first time without having seen anyone else do it before, nor even having heard of it. Either way, I had no intention of turning it into a career. It was just for fun. I suppose it snowballed into it when I found myself at party after party, being asked to do it. I started having to bring my own records, so I would be better prepared to make it look real good. Not long after that, I was practicing in my apartment; all for the chance to please a few kids who would laugh about it while it was happening, and then go back home to not give it much thought anymore. During one of my weird and fun performances, a guy jumped up on the counter next to me, and started lip-syncing the vocals. It was a particularly voice-heavy song, which was my bad, so I was relieved he went up there to keep the energy up while the guitar wasn’t going. I would normally just keep dancing on my own, but it felt great to have a partner. After we were done, we left the party together to talk. He told me about his life, and I told him about mine. We both loved music, and were enamored by rockstars, but we weren’t musicians. Like, we were both really bad, there was no hope for us. Or rather there was, because as it turned out, there’s money to be made in pretending to play an instrument on stage. No joke.

This story does not involve a down-on-his-luck talent agent who discovers us at one of our not quite impromptu gigs, and decides to take us under his wing, even though his contemporaries laugh at him for it, but he believes in us, or truthfully, he believes in the cash that’ll be coming to him if he plays this right, so he gets so greedy that it nearly destroys us, but we come back stronger than ever, and go down in history as legends, and eventually end up in a sensationalized documentary. No, none of that happened. But we did start a band. We found ourselves a drummer—who was an actual, real drummer, by the way, so we never totally understood why he walked this path with us when he could have joined a legit band. We even got someone to pretend to play bass. It was my job to dance around and look pretty, while he always stayed lowkey. It sounds kind of stupid, but we made it work, and he was a pretty big draw for some of our crowds. And we did have crowds. Our rise to fame was shockingly parallel to what real bands go through. We started with small audiences, which grew bigger and bigger, until we were nationally famous, and then internationally so. Big in Japan, as my air vocalist liked to say. It still amazes me that any of this went anywhere. I guess it happened during the perfect time period. It was late enough for rock to be loud and showy, but before internet video, which might have saturated the market too much for us to make a name for ourselves. I don’t think we had much of a hand in developing the art form. Plenty of others were doing the same thing as us, though mostly as solo acts. We were just kind of this niche act that only made us enough money to keep doing it, but not do anything else with our lives, at least for as long as it lasted. The novelty wore off within a decade, and we each had to find real jobs. We remained good friends, though, and even played a final reunion gig a year ago before our bassist died. Yep. It was a wild life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Microstory 1882: Someone Their Own Size

I was a wanderer in my youth. I settled down when I got old, and the traveler life was no longer viable. I don’t regret the way I was, and I don’t regret ending it when I did. I don’t care that I can’t afford to be in a nice facility. It’s got a bed, and they feed me twice a day, which is more than I can say for some periods of my past. There was a time when I could go anywhere in the world with no problem. Hiking, hitchhiking, sneaking onto trains; everything was easier before. I suppose I started doing it out of necessity. I had a normal upbringing, and a regular job, but then I lost that job, and couldn’t get a new one, so I sold most of my possessions just to get by, including my car. Once I realized there was nothing left for me there, I skipped town, and began to make my way to other places. Sometimes I found a good job that could have lasted, and sometimes not. If it was the former, I would inevitably quit, and move on anyway. You see, I get bored quite easily. The scenery, the people, the restaurants; I like them when they’re new, but I inevitably eventually lose interest. One time I managed to scrounge up enough cash to get on a boat to the New World. It’s not like I had a dream to make a better life overseas. I just figured things would be different enough, and thus more interesting to me. They weren’t really; things are pretty much the same no matter where you go. But I never went back, because I felt like I was done with Europe by then. I spent a lot of time in the rural parts, which is where our story really begins. My life up to this particular point, and all the time after that, was generic and boring, but I finally got an adventure. I just wish it hadn’t been so bloody. Still, at least I have something to say for myself. I saved lives.

I was wandering through the woods one early afternoon, hoping to find a spot to make camp, when I started to hear a ruckus beyond the trees. It wasn’t my business, but I’ve always been curious—disappointed, ultimately, but curious until I learn the truth. So I kept walking, and found myself overlooking a fighting ring down the hill. It was a huge operation, lookin’ so strange since it was in the middle of nowhere. Three Ring Circus is what they called it, unoriginal as that was. A third of the audience was watching a cock fight, the other third a dog fight, and the final third a human fight. Some people acted like they could smell me—it was weird—they turned around, and gave me the stink eye. A couple of rednecks started to walk up towards me. It was clear that I was unwelcome there. I don’t know how they figured out who was excited for the violence, and who didn’t approve, but they seemed to know right away that I did not like what I was seeing. The humans, I didn’t care about. They made their choices, as far as I was concerned, but the animals were innocent, and were never given any options. I. Went. Crazy. I had been in a number of fights myself over the years. Some places just don’t like strangers, even if you mean them no harm. I was never formally trained, though, so I was kind of surprised at how much I had picked up from experience. I took down the men they sent after me, and then I went after everybody else. Some were afraid of getting caught by the authorities, so they bugged out, but others tried to defend their territory. You might not believe it, but I took on at least twenty men all on my own, including the human fighters whose entire reason for being was hurting others. Once it was over, and I left, having freed the poor creatures, I’m sure the people who ran the show just started back up again, but I still felt satisfied by giving them a taste of their own medicine.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Microstory 1881: Eyes Out on Stalks

Before all this social media, if you wanted to get to know a celebrity, your only hope was to catch them in an interview on TV, or maybe see them at an awards show. You could read an interview, yes, or some other kind of article, but they always put their best foot forward, so unless it was a takedown piece, the writer would show them in the best light. That was okay, in general, but it did once place me in danger. When I had a crush on a particular leading man from decades long past—and I certainly wasn’t the only one—it was based on very little information. He was so great in his movies. He didn’t appear in many projects, mind you; he was a choosy talent, but they were all amazing, and he was amazing in all of them. I was young and naive, and I thought I was in love. Of course, I never thought I would get the opportunity to meet the man, and looking back, if only one minor thing had changed about that fateful day, I never would have. I can’t even say his name, it hurts so much to think back on it. I guess you could call it my unfinished business, even though there is nothing I can do about it now, so here it is. My local radio station was offering a promotion. Be caller number 96, and win a date with the hunk himself. They couldn’t call it a date on the official rules as it suggested some sort of romantic slant, but the crude radio personalities sure had their fun with their guesses as to what would go down. I called in, and actually won, and I was so incredibly excited. This was it, I was finally going to meet the man of my dreams. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was under no illusions about the upcoming night. I did not think he would fall in love with me, and ask me to marry him right then and there. But I didn’t care, because I felt honored enough just to be in his presence. I was so wrong.

He didn’t get down on one knee and propose to me on the night of, but he did seem to like me a lot. My mother warned me that he would probably expect sex. That was all right, I was ready, so I sat through the talk so she could make sure I understood that I could always change my mind. I did change my mind and it wasn’t really due to anything specific about him. He had a bit of a weird smell that I imagine he would call his musk, but I could have looked past that. It was just that we didn’t have any chemistry, and I guess he always wore makeup on screen, so I wasn’t all that attracted to him, so after the meet and greet, I just wanted to leave. It was a nice time, and I don’t think I would have regretted it if it had all ended, but he was not interested in ending things. He appeared totally fine that I wasn’t into have sex, but it was all an act. He was determined to get me in bed, whether I wanted it or not. He didn’t just break into my house, and attack me, though. No, that would have been too obvious. It would have been scary too, but at least I could have called the authorities if he had done that. Instead, he was what everyone around me thought was oh so romantic. They never let me call it what it was, which was stalking. He would send me flowers, and show up at my work. I found him in my kitchen once, waiting for my mother to make him some breakfast, like he was her son-in-law. It was so creepy, and I kept having to reject his advances, but he wouldn’t have it. I think he only stopped coming by because he found some new girl to fixate on. I never summed any of this up before, because as bad as it was, his actions were not reportable. I just wish people had listened to me back then, because a couple of years ago, we learned that some other girls ended up being not so lucky.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 4, 2393

Mateo looked at his wife, who was seething with anger. He was worried she was about to jump up and tackle this McCord girl, or whatever her name was. Thack seemed as lost as him, but then it apparently dawned on her. “Oh. Oh, that’s right. I forgot you went to their universe once.”
“It was not a pleasant experience.” That was the day that Leona learned she was just a character in a role-playing game, being moved around time and space by a group of children. She spent a lot of time in therapy with Bungula’s once-leader, Eight Point Seven because of all that. The one good thing about the situation was that she and Mateo were temporarily off of the Matic pattern, or Leona would still be in therapy today, working out her issues, it having only been six months since the trauma in that hypothetical scenario.
“What is this?” Mateo questioned. “I don’t know who this is. I should know everything you know, since Nerakali gifted me your memories during the time that I didn’t exist.”
“This was after that,” Leona said, not breaking her gaze from Xolta. To be sure, Xolta was one of the younger players she met, and the only one to express sadness over learning the truth about their game. If she had to run into one of those again, it was best that it was her. “This was when you were on Dardius, and I was on Bungula.”
“Oh, right,” Mateo recalled. “You didn’t talk about your time there.”
“Maybe it’s time I tell you the truth,” Leona said to him, finally looking away from the target of her fury. “Do we have time?” she asked Thack.
Thack bowed slightly. “Time has no meaning here. Miss McCord can wait.”
Leona went off to another room to explain what had happened to her those years ago. When they returned, the rest of the audience had cleared out. Only the team was left, along with Thack and Xolta. No one was talking, nor looked like they had been talking that whole time.
“Okay,” Thack continued, “as I was saying, this is Xolta McCord. She is a witch from Universe Prime, and she can age you up.”
“I haven’t actually agreed to that,” Xoltra reminded her.
“Yes, you have,” Thack corrected. She was not one to be argued with.
Ramses stood up, and shook the witch’s hand. “Ramses Abdulrashid. Mid to late twenties, please. I would very much appreciate it.”
Xolta waited a moment to see if anyone protested, but they were all just waiting to see what it would look like. Then she shut her eyes, and prepared herself. She quite slowly moved her hands around, like she was trying to find the exact right position.
“Is this gonna take very long?” Leona asked after a few minutes of this.
“I’ve never done it in the outer bulkverse,” Xolta explained. “I don’t know how to reach the gods from here.”
“The gods?”
“That’s just what we call them,” Xolta defended.
Thack placed a hand on her shoulder. “You don’t need the gods for this. It’s a local engagement. Just sense his body.”
Ramses opened his eyes back up, having closed them instinctively, and sported a certain look.
Thack reached over, and physically moved Xolta’s hand to Ramses’ chest. “Connect with him. Remember what I taught you about soulwork. Craft and spirit articulation are not so different.”
Xolta kept trying, until something apparently clicked. “I have it.”
“Now, don’t summon the gods. Use the words, but don’t worry about them. Use them to command Ramses to change directly.”
Xolta took a breath, and whispered, “eesa..avra..turo.”
Ramses did begin to change. He rose a couple inches taller. His hair lengthened. His skin wrinkled. By the time Xolta reopened her eyes, he was an old man.
“Oh no,” the witch lamented.
“What is it?” Ramses asked.
“Shit,” Thack said, which sounded very unlike her.
Embarrassed, Xolta held her left hand in front of her eyes, palm outwards. She then clapped it with her right, turned that palm outwards as well, and slapped them back together a second time. Finally, she slid them away from each other—quite abruptly at first, then smoothly—right hand downwards, and left hand up a little. Xolta’s face was gone, replaced with Ramses’ own. She turned herself into a mirror image of him. “I’m so sorry,” she told him.
“Is it not reversible?” he questioned.
“It is,” Thack promised.
“No, it’s not,” Xolta argued, “because this is one of the easiest engagements. I’ve done it a million times before, so if I messed it up, it means I just can’t do it.”
Thack put Xolta’s hands back together, and wiped Ramses’ face away. “That was one of the easier engagements, and you performed it beautifully, with no hesitation. You just need to concentrate harder on the one you really want. Do it again, but in reverse. We all believe in you...right?”
“Yeah,” and “we do,” the group confirmed, not all that convincingly.
Xolta took a breath. “Okay.” She placed her hand on his chest again, and reconnected with him. “Asee...arva...turo.”
That did it. As requested, Ramses was back to his twentysomething self.
“There,” Thack said happily. “Now the other five will be easy, ‘cause you know you can do it.”
“I would like to be a little younger than that,” Angela asked, bashfully. “If that’s possible.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Xolta said.
“And I would like to be older,” Marie asked. “Just to tell us apart easierly,” she explained when people looked at her funny. “I’ll be the older one.”
I’m the older one,” Angela pointed out.
“By a few days, Marie contended. “Please, let me give this to you. I promise I won’t fall on my sword ever again. I’ll look thirty-five, but I won’t age beyond that, will I, Ramses?”
“No, sir,” Ramses agreed.
And so Xolta continued her magic, except that she was clear it wasn’t magic. Craft, as it was called—and very much not called witchcraft—was not magic. Nor were the gods. They were people who were in charge of certain technologies in her home universe, having used this technology to tap into a higher level of physics than most other cultures ever grew to understand. Craft was a way of hacking into this tech, except that the so-called gods were aware that this was happening, and rarely withheld it, though they surely could. They didn’t interfere with the regular people in the main dimension, for reasons no one could say, so this was kind of their loophole. Witches studied enough about the cosmos to learn some of their secrets, and that was fine.
Before too long, the whole team was back to where they belonged, not necessarily at the age they were before they died, but it was close enough, and exactly what they were looking for. Mateo was particularly relieved, more so than Leona, who had been trapped in a body younger than them all. That was precisely why he was so relieved. Ever since they transferred to these bodies, they were too busy with other things to dwell on how uncomfortable it was, looking so illicitly young. There was one specific thing it robbed them of. “Now we can have sex again,” he mused...in mixed company. 
“Mateo, damn,” Leona scolded.
“What, you’re my wife.”
“And we no longer have access to our grave chamber, so it’ll have to wait. We can’t even get back to our home universe.”
“Yes, you can,” Thack said. “Though I admit, I can’t get you back to your reality.” She ushered them into another room, where a young man was sitting in a recliner, reading something on an e-reader. “You can go home now. Your passengers are ready.”
The man shut off his device, and stood up. “Whatever.”
“Gang, this is—” Thack tried to say.
“No, no,” the young man stopped her. “Rule Number Two...”
Never be surprised, but never assume you have the whole story,” Olimpia recited proudly.
The man shook his head, and at the same time as Leona, recited, “no names.” He was pleasantly surprised by this, which was slightly ironic.
“You’re not the first person to tell me that,” Leona said.
“Where does he live?” Mateo asked.
“Fourth Quadrant,” Thack answered. “It’s the best I could do. I pulled a lot of strings just to get him here, and it cost me. He was not invited, so it was not received well. Getting you six in was easy by comparison.”
“Do you have a way back to the main sequence?” Leona asked of the man.
“Not personally. I’ll point you towards someone who might.”
“Thank you,” Miss Collins,” Leona said. Then she turned. “Thank you, Miss McCord.”
“Forgive me what my friends and I did in our youth.”
“I do not blame you,” Leona admitted. I blame him,” she said, implying The Superintendent.
Like Saga and Vearden, the way back to the man’s home was through a doorway. Evidently, the system was designed to prevent people from even realizing that they had traveled the bulkverse at all. The target left their house that day, was spirited away to another brane, and continued down the street, under the impression that nothing special had happened. Perhaps that was where the doorwalkers’ power came from, as some kind of extension of Westfall.
The man threw his keys in the bowl by the door, and plopped down on the couch. “I suppose you’ll be wanting me to offer you drinks?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Angela said. “Could you just take us to who might be able to help us?”
He leaned his head back all the way, farther than was medically wise. “I’m so tired. Can you just go yourself? Call a RideSauce.”
“We don’t have cell phones,” Marie explained.
He whined some more, and muttered unintelligibly. Now they could see the strings that Thack pulled. He wasn’t witness to the birth of a Boltzmann Brane material.
“That’s quite all right,” Leona said, pulling Marie away. “We’ll figure it out. Thank you for letting us hitch a ride back, Mister Mystery Man.”
They left his house, and stepped down to the sidewalk. Leona squinted her eyes in the sun, and got her bearings. “I can see downtown from here. We’ll just walk, it’ll be fine.”
“Do we get tired?” Olimpia asked Ramses.
“Yes, but after longer,” he answered. “Plus, we can teleport.”
“I keep forgetting about that,” Marie noted.
“I would rather just walk, though,” Angela said. “Despite the fact that the outer bulkverse is the greatest expanse than even a whole universe, it feels so claustrophobic, with all those lights swirling around.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Leona concurred.
“Walking it is,” Mateo said cheerfully.
The Fourth Quadrant looked mighty different than it had before. While the main sequence chose to tighten themselves up into fewer and fewer megastructure habitats, this was more like what science fiction writers proposed for their stories set in the future. The buildings were sleek and shiny; more rounded, and less straight up and down. Each one was made of wildly different design, but they were seemingly constructed of the same materials. They fit together like a puzzle, as if someone had planned the entire thing from the start, and hadn’t begun until they knew exactly what they wanted it to be in the end. All of the cars that passed them were hovering half a meter over the road, while others flew overhead, possibly as drones, or maybe automated taxis. It was beautiful, and sprawling; clean and environmentally conscious.
Night had fallen by the time they reached The Capitol. It looked pretty much as it had the last time they were in this reality, though now with that new, advanced metamaterial. Two guards were standing at the entrance. They stepped forwards as they approached, and made it clear that they weren’t so much as allowed to enter the building.
“Hello,” Leona began. “My name is Captain Leona Matic. We are here to speak with someone who can help us return to the main sequence. Is President Natasha Orlov still in power? We’ve worked directly with her before.”
The guards looked at each other. “President Orlov is dead,” one of them answered in some kind of slavic accent. “Long live President Orlov.”
Mateo turtled his head towards them. “Like, a relative?”
“Her brother,” the other one answered. He checked his watch. “He’s the daytime president, at least.”
“And who runs the show at night.”
“That would be my brother,” came a voice from behind them. It was a woman, surrounded by her own posse of bodyguards. “Thank you, Arsenio, Stan. I’ll take it from here. Hi,” she said to the team. “My name is Skylar Spout, and we have all been expecting you.”

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Extremus: Year 43

Finally finished with her regular duties for the day, Kaiora leaves the bridge, and heads for a secret section of the ship that almost no one has access to. It’s not technically part of the Bridger Section, but it’s close, and just as hidden. Temporal engineers, Kumara and Greenley are already there, along with Kumara’s husband, and the current Head of Security, Errol. This is the braintrust at the moment. No one else knows what they’re doing, and no one else has been in here for the last six months. They rebuilt their time machine from scratch, believing that to be the better choice than to try to figure out how the first one was sabotaged. The secondary mission is to investigate the origins of Fake!Rita Suárez, but the primary is to rescue the people who were sent to the reverse time dimension without their consent or foreknowledge. They will starve to death unless someone enters the dimension now, and goes back with supplies. Everyone has their fingers crossed, hoping that nothing goes wrong this time, because if it does, all will probably be lost, and whoever was responsible for the sabotage in the first place will likely destroy everything.
Speaking of which, Kaiora’s been quite busy with other things. The executive civilian government package had to be replaced, but as Captain, she had to decide not to tell anyone exactly what happened. This proved to be a very unpopular decision, but there was nothing she could do. The saboteurs placed her in such an awkward position. Either she was honest, and caused a shipwide panic, or she kept quiet, and risked losing their confidence. There was every chance that her shift would end prematurely because of this, just like Halan before her. Maybe no captain would be destined to serve as long as they were supposed to. Maybe this whole experiment was a failure, and it was only a matter of time before the consequences reached critical mass. It seemed like such an easy concept. Take a generation ship to the other side of the galaxy. Everyone here volunteered to come, even the children. Why have there been so many obstacles? Why have they accumulated so many enemies?
“We’re ready, sir,” Greenley says.
Kaiora sighs, and stares at the new machine. She looks around, in the direction the observation room would be if they were doing this in the same lab as before. There’s nothing there. That doesn’t mean that nothing can go wrong, though, and she’s been fending off her paranoia since August; perhaps even longer. “Are you two ready?”
“Operation Tenet is a go,” Kumara confirms. It wasn’t until after the first attempt at this that someone pointed out that the reverse time dimension is very similar to a plot point in an ancient movie from Earth Apparently, the idea of moving backwards in time isn’t the main point of the story, but rather what would happen if you were shot with a bullet going in the wrong direction. Obviously the real answer is, just like a regular bullet if you happened to be facing the other direction yourself, but whatever.
“Don’t call it that,” Kaiora orders.
“Sir.”
“Proceed when ready,” Kaiora says. “Take your time.”
“We know you have other places to be,” Errol says as he’s checking his inventory one last time, and stepping into the chamber.
“I appreciate that.”
Kumara shuts the door behind them, and returns the a-okay gesture when Greenley queries him with it. Greenley then looks over at the Captain.
“I’m fine,” Kaiora assures her. “If it’s sabotaged a second time, then nothing matters. Just do it.”
Greenley casually salutes her boss, then presses the button. The two rescuers disappear. And they don’t come back.
“Shouldn’t they have returned by now?” Kaiora questions. “I mean, it’s time travel. Nothing should be able to hold them up, except for death.
“That is the most likely explanation,” Greenley agrees.
“So, they are dead?”
“Probably.”
“Corinna, and the rest of them; they’re dead too?”
“Probably,” Greenley repeats.
The Captain sighs again, and pinches her nose. “Congratulations, Greenley Atkinson. You are now Head Temporal Engineer for the failed interstellar mission known as Project Extremus.”
“Thank you, sir,” she answers just as unenthusiastically. “I’ll try to hold it all together for as long as I can before the walls come crumbling down around us.”
Kaiora starts to walk out. “Yeah, unless you find something better to do, in which case, I say go follow your bliss. I have to see if we can detect impostor clones...for all that that’s worth at this point.” She exits, and heads for another secret room.
Dr. Malone has clearly been waiting at the interior entrance impatiently. “Captain, please, I need to talk to you.”
“You’re not why I’m here today,” Kaiora warns him. “Don’t linger by the door either. It’s not protocol.” She keeps walking down the hallway.
“I’m sorry, and I understand that, but it’s really important.”
“Has one of the subjects come to you with some specific issue?”
“Well, no, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing okay.”
“Of course not, but it’s not your job to break them out of here. It’s your job to make them comfortable during their stay on a psycho-emotional level. I have given you more than enough resources to help them. What could you possibly need beyond that?”
“I think if they just got a few minutes on the outside, it—”
Kaiora stops shortly. “No. The point is to keep you inside, and isolated. You take one step out that door, and you’re compromised. I can’t be sure that the person who walks back through is the same one that left. Now. Is this about the other guests, or is this about you?”
“We’re all in this together.”
“No, Dr. Malone. I’m in this alone. You’re all here to help me get through it. Where’s Miss Seabrooke?”
“Where she always is,” Dr. Malone answers. “I still wanna talk,” he adds as she’s leaving him behind.
She ignores him, and enters the Seabrooke Lab. It’s an absolute mess. Meal bar wrappers all over the place, cans of civilian grade soft drinks at varying degrees of crushedness piled in the corner. There’s a smell. “How’s it coming?”
“Slow,” Elodie Seabrooke replies. She doesn’t turn away from her screen.
“That’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I’m doing my best, it’s just not good enough.”
Kaiora sits down in the other chair, and turns Elodie by the shoulders. She has to wave her gaze forwards to make eye contact too. “I didn’t want to say this before, because I didn’t want to make any of you feel bad, but judging by the looks of this place, it may be time for the last resort.”
“What last resort?” Elodie tries to look back at her computer, but accepts it when her Captain pulls her back into the conversation by the chin.
“Do you know why I selected this team? The researchers, the second level research subjects?”
“No, I’ve been wondering why. None of us isssssssssss...particular good.”
Kaiora lets out an unfortunate sigh, like she always does. She once caught a crew member calling her Captain Sighmaster “That’s why I chose you. The imposters are taking on the forms of people at high levels. They want to be captain, and first chair, famous scientists, engineers with high clearance. You’re not unimportant, Elodie, but you’re not the best computer engineer this ship has, and that’s what makes you perfect for the job. I don’t know how long it’s going to take you to figure this out, but I’m patient, because if I chose a colleague of yours who graduated top of their class, they may already be compromised. Again, I didn’t want to say this, but look at it this way; there are advantages to living under the radar. If this team solves this problem, your mediocrity will drain away, and no one will ever forget the name Elodie Seabrooke.”
Elodie holds her breath, then spits it all out at once. “Oh, that is such a relief. Oh my God, it’s like the anxiety squeezing me has finally let go. I thought you had just made a terrible, terrible mistake, and I was desperately trying not to disappoint you.”
“I don’t want you to worry.”
Elodie leans the back of her leg against her chair, and stares up at the ceiling. “Now it all makes sense. Have you met Malone? Man, he’s terrible. He never makes us feel at ease. He’s the most maladjusted, neurotic, disquieting therapist I’ve ever met.”
“You’re gonna have to cut him some slack. He has a job to do here too.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
They sit in silence for some time.
“What do you have for me so far?”
“Well, the facial recognition software is fine,” Elodie begins. “I mean, it’s as good as I can get without access to the real cameras. It successfully flags our two sets of twins, even when we dress them up differently. I’m still struggling with matching across time. If it captures one twin at 19:00, and then another at 19:05 on the other side of the section, it thinks that’s all right, because it’s entirely plausible that the same person simply walked over there. I haven’t even begun to think about how we might incorporate teleportation.”
“Don’t factor that in,” Kaiora says. “I’m going to ban teleportation for the next several years.”
Elodie is surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah, for this very reason. It’s just...there’s just too much data.”
“It shouldn’t be the hardest thing in the world. The impostor would probably be wearing the same clothes as the person they’re impersonating.”
“But they might, because they might have that data. We still don’t know who they are, or where they came from. Hell, they could be some kind of pure energy-based alien race who are just trying to study us.”
“Still haven’t captured one yet?” Elodie asks.
“Not a live one, no. The genetics team can’t move forward without them, so our control group has nothing to do. I need to find a way to draw them out.”
“I may have your solution to that problem.” They turn to find Daley McKee in the doorway. He’s a nurse in charge of caring for the genetic subjects in that capacity. Or rather, he would be doing that if they had any impostor subjects to compare to the control group. “I volunteer as tribute.”
“You what?”
“We’re looking for impostors, right? We’re looking for people who are so convincing that the alien contaminant detectors on this ship can’t...detect them. We think they’re clones, using DNA stolen from their victims in various ways. So why don’t we play their game.”
Kaiora finds herself looking back over to Elodie, who says, “don’t let him make you think he came up with this plan on his own. We talk about this over lunch all the time. If we were to create our own impostor, and then fabricate a situation where that impostor is outed, it might draw out one of the evil impostors.”
“Yeah,” Daley continues, “the evil impostor may try to help our plant—a.k.a. me—or they may be like, why the hell are you pretending to be the Captain? We never assigned you that role. Who are you really?”
“You want to impersonate me?” Kaiora questions.
“Or whatever.” Daley shrugs. “Probably not, actually, because then we risk the mob deciding that you might be the impostor instead. We should choose someone important, who you don’t like all that much, so if both the impostor, and the real person, are killed, no big deal.”
“In this scenario, are you still the good impostor?”
“Yes, but don’t you worry none about me. It’s like you were telling her, we’re not important.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Okay...but we’re not.” Daley crosses his arms. “Look, Cap...”
“Don’t call me that.”
Daley goes on without missing a beat, “...I would be honored to die for my ship...for the mission. Then I really would be important. We have to figure out who these people are, and if I don’t survive, at least I’ll know I did everything I could. It’s a good plan.”
“It’s not a plan,” Kaiora contends. “It’s an idea.”
“I’ve heard it both ways.”
Kaiora looks at Elodie again, who widens into a very fake and unconvincing smile.
“All right, I’ll authorize preliminary discussions into this potential plan. I make no further promises, though.”
“Great!” Daley says, legitimately excited. “I’ll go talk to the Clone and Consciousness Transference teams.”
Preliminary!” Kaiora shouts to him as he’s running away.
“Are you really gonna do this?” Elodie asks.
“I think we both know that it’s gonna happen, and that it’s gonna end up being me, because I can’t risk anyone else’s life.”
“You would still be risking Daley’s,” Elodie points out.
Kaiora shakes her head. “No, I won’t. Nobody’s going to be transferring their mind into a clone of me. I’m going to be duplicating myself.”