Friday, June 30, 2023

Microstory 1920: Reluctance

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Special Investigator: You found him.
Fugitive Agent: You sound surprised. How many other people did you have on this?
Special Investigator: In my line of work, Agent Parsons, we can’t afford to not be discreet. You were the only one assigned to the manhunt. I’m not surprised that you got him. I just thought that it would take longer. Does that mean it was easy?
Fugitive Agent Parsons: No, but it was painless. Well, technically there was blood...
Special Investigator: Whose blood? If it was yours, you’ll have to fill out a liability compensation form. If it was a suspect or obstacle, there’s a form for that too.
Agent Parsons: It’s nothing like that. I’ll put it all in my report, but I sort of had to...
Special Investigator: Had to what?
Agent Parsons: I had to join a group of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Special Investigator: Ah, the bond. Interesting they let you in. We’ve been trying to use them for years. You’re telling me that you have access to four dozen informants? 
Agent Parsons: It’s closer to five dozen, and yes. But I’ve agreed not to abuse my power. That was a mutual requirement. I can’t use my position as a lawman to unethically help them, and in return I’m not allowed to use my resources to hurt them, or others like them. Just because someone isn’t in the bond, doesn’t mean they’re fair game. It’s all very complicated; I can’t say too much about it.
Special Investigator: I get it. I assume you joined because our man is a member?
Agent Parsons: No. They helped me find him, but he’s not exactly from around here.
Special Investigator: So we were right. He’s from another world.
Agent Parsons: I am at liberty to divulge that he’s from another universe, but he won’t give me any details about that, or any connection he has to the entity you have in your basement, if there’s a connection to be had at all.
Special Investigator: It’s not in the basement.
Agent Parsons: Proverbially.
Special Investigator: What has he said about it?
Agent Parsons: It’s called an Ochivar. Plural is Ochivari. They’re from another universe too, but not his own. When they show up, the world is doomed. They sterilize the entire population, based on some prediction they have about the natives destroying the environment. That’s why it’s not communicating with you. They never come alone.
Special Investigator: You need to bring this guy in. We have to know more.
Agent Parsons: He doesn’t know much more, I think. He’s never encountered an Ochivar before. Evidently one of his former parolees told him about them. He doesn’t know how he ended up in our universe, and he doesn’t know how to get back to his, or how to detect anyone else coming through, or how to stop it from happening.
Special Investigator: What’s stopping him from coming to speak with us in person?
Agent Parsons: He’s spooked. He was here not ten minutes before someone threw him in jail. He wants to help, but he doesn’t trust anyone—I think, with good reason. 
Special Investigator: Give him whatever he wants. Put him up in a nice hotel suite, pay him money; whatever it takes. If he wants immunity, I’ll handle it. Will that do?
Agent Parsons: We can certainly try.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Microstory 1919: Safehouse Social

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Leonard: I won’t help you find the others.
Fugitive Agent: That’s okay.
Leonard: I escaped with them, but I’m not with them. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you where they are...assuming I know that anyway. Which I may not.
Fugitive Agent: I’m not expecting you to tell me anything about them. They’re not my responsibility. I don’t even care that you broke out of jail. I wanted to speak with you for other reasons.
Leonard: And her? What does she want?
Freewoman: I’m just here to support him.
Leonard: Are you one of the street people...the ones who found me? They say you’re part of some sort of group of the formerly incarcerated.
Fugitive Agent: Freemen, they’re called. Or freewomen. I’m new, and still a lawman.
Leonard: I see. Well, anyway, what did you need from me?
Fugitive Agent: *looks at freewoman* The rest of the conversation will have to be in private. I was read in to certain things—
Freewoman: You don’t have to explain. I’ll go.
Fugitive Agent: We’ll talk later, okay?
Freewoman: If you want privacy, I’ll make sure you have it. No one will come near this room. Wait two minutes before you say whatever it is you can’t say in mixed company.
Leonard: [...] It’s been two minutes. Go ahead with your questions.
Fugitive Agent: Yeah, I know. I just don’t know how to start. I spent so much time trying to find you, I didn’t think much about what I was going to say.
Leonard: Well, what makes me so special? Why don’t you care about the other escapees? I’m nobody.
Fugitive Agent: You’re not, though, are you? Okay, I’m just going to say what the deal is. I was just informed of this the other day, but I saw footage of it. I don’t know if it’s real, but it came from the Office of Special Investigations, and they’re not known for their humor. It appeared to be—I don’t wanna say it...
Leonard: Don’t worry. I’ve learned to keep an open mind.
Fugitive Agent: It was an alien. At least I think it was. Maybe it was from another dimension, or maybe it’s been here this whole time, but invisible, so no human has ever seen it before. I don’t know, but it was weird, and it freaked me out—
Leonard: *leans forward in his chair* What did it look like?
Fugitive Agent: Like a bug. I think it had wings. It kind of had a human face, though. I think it can talk, but it has reportedly chosen not to. You don’t sound surprised. What is it? Do you know what it is? Its arrival matches science readings from your arrival. Did you come from the same place? What is it? Who are you? What is it!
Leonard: It sounds like an Ochivar.
Fugitive Agent: An Ochivar. Is that bad? What planet is it from? Where are you from? Are there others? Is this the beginning of a secret invasion?
Leonard: Look, I can tell you what I know, but you’ll have to calm down. It may be bad—it probably is—but let’s not jump to any conclusions. First...tell me everything.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Microstory 1918: Not a Wedding

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Freewoman: Are you ready to do this?
Fugitive Agent: I notice you’re wearing white. This isn’t a wedding, if I recall correctly.
Freewoman: It’s not a wedding. I just look fantastic in white.
Fugitive Agent: I would have to agree with that. What are we doing here again?
Freewoman: We’re getting couple bonded. Oh, I get it, you think you’re funny.
Fugitive Agent: Ah, had you for a second.
Freeman 2: Fugitive Agent, can we talk for a minute?
Fugitive Agent: Can it wait? We’re about to start kind of an important ceremony.
Freeman 2: That’s why we need to talk. I don’t think you have to go through with this.
Freewoman: If you wish to object to this bond, you will have your opportunity at a particular moment. Until then, I would kindly ask that you sit back down with the rest of the audience.
Freeman 2: Pardon me, miss. I meant no disrespect. It’s just that the fugitive; the one he’s been looking for? We have him.
Fugitive Agent: What do you mean, you have him? You know where he is?
Freeman 2: Yeah, but it’s more than that. He’s in pocket.
Fugitive Agent: You didn’t hurt him, did you?
Freeman 2: Of course not. We put our ears to the ground, and our spies on the skies. I guess one of our contacts screwed up, and let slip what we were doing. The dude found out we were looking for him, which could have sent him underground, but I guess he was curious, so he approached us willingly. He’s in a safehouse right now. I don’t know if you wanna go there, or if you wanna continue...
Fugitive Agent: *looks at Freewoman*
Freewoman: Go. It’s why we were doing this, and now the point is moot.
Fugitive Agent: [...] No. I made a commitment, I’m following through.
Freewoman: You’ve not made the commitment yet; that’s what I’m saying. The others will be disappointed, but they’ll understand.
Fugitive Agent: I gave you my word. The point of the bond is to be part of something bigger than yourself. This is in the best interests of everyone here, including me. I was looking forward to this for other reasons.
Freewoman: Are you sure?
Fugitive Agent: The escapee. He’s safe, right? He’s not getting antsy, and the other authorities don’t know where he is, I hope.
Freeman 2: He’s fine, last I checked. I can call the guys that are watching over him.
Fugitive Agent: That would make me feel better. If it’s urgent, we’ll postpone this, but if it’s not, we’re doing it now. One thing we’re not gonna do is cancel, Freewoman.
Freeman 2: *on the phone* Freeman 3, what’s up? Yeah, he still there?—Is he doing okay?—Okay, remind him that we’re on his side, and we’re not gonna hurt him. He’s not a prisoner. If he wants to leave, let him go, but follow him cautiously.—All right, thanks. We’ll be there soon. *hangs up* He’s all right.
Fugitive Agent: Great. Then on with the show!
Freewoman: Okay. You may proceed, Parole Counselor.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Microstory 1917: Not a Date

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Fugitive Agent: But this isn’t a date.
Freewoman: No, it’s not a date. It’s a bond engagement.
Fugitive Agent: You know what people call it when they agree to marry each other?
Freewoman: An engagement, I know, but that’s not what this is either. The word, in this case, means an event or gathering of two or more participant parties.
Fugitive Agent: You had that one in the chamber. Have you gone on many of these?
Freewoman: Not a one. I never thought I would be couple bonded. Honestly, I don’t generally get along well with other ex-cons.
Fugitive Agent: Yet you’re the leader of the female bond group.
Freewoman: You don’t ask to be the leader. They choose you. I’ve had to learn to accept it, as you will one day.
Fugitive Agent: Why would I ever be the leader? I’m still a lawman.
Freewoman: You’re the first to succeed in a couple bond in a long time. They’ll love that. The current leader will probably step down for you. His couple bond was dissolved.
Fugitive Agent: Really? Well, I don’t want it. I’m just doing this—
Freewoman: To find your special fugitive, I know. Like I said, I didn’t want it either.
Fugitive Agent: I see. [...] This is good salad, yeah?
Freewoman: Speaking of being a lawman, I’ve noticed how open-minded and nonjudgmental you are to us criminals. That seems...
Fugitive Agent: Out of character for someone in my position? Yes, well, the truth is that I wanted to be a parole officer, which is probably why I’m so invested in this particular assignment. The man I’m looking for is supposedly a P.O. himself—I don’t know if I told you that.
Freewoman: You didn’t. So, what happened? Why do you work for Fugitive Services?
Fugitive Agent: I’m a legacy. If you met my father, he would list all of our family’s exploits going back centuries of all the fugitives we’ve collectively caught. You wouldn’t even have to ask him about it. He’ll find a way to work it into the conversation, and then the conversation will be effectively over. The rest will be a monologue.
Freewoman: I see. [...] You’re right, this salad is good.
Fugitive Agent: Full honesty is a pillar of the freeman bond. Does the couple bond share this value?
Freewoman: It does...but we’re not bonded yet, and certain lies are grandfathered in as long as they don’t negatively impact the relationship, or our respective freedom, so don’t think you have to divulge all your secrets for it to work out.
Fugitive Agent: This isn’t about the past; it’s about the present. If we go through with this, then you should know that I...
Freewoman: You what?
Fugitive Agent: I am not...unattracted to you.
Freewoman: *smirks* I’m not unattracted to you either.
Fugitive Agent: Is that going to be a problem?
Freewoman: Only if we make it a problem.
Fugitive Agent: Good to know. *smiles*

Monday, June 26, 2023

Microstory 1916: Partners No More

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Fugitive Agent 2: Where have you been, man? We’re supposed to be partners.
Fugitive Agent: I’m on special assignment. I sent you a text, and the OSI should have sent Senior Fugitive Agent an email about it.
Fugitive Agent 2: Yeah, and she’s presently working on a replacement partner, but I wanted to speak with you in person. What is this assignment? What are you doing?
Fugitive Agent: I’m looking for the escapees.
Fugitive Agent 2: That’s what we were doing...together. Why am I being reassigned?
Fugitive Agent: I’m sorry, man. I gotta do this. I’m just here to pick up my stuff. The road is gonna be my office for the foreseeable future.
Fugitive Agent 2: You saw something.
Fugitive Agent: What?
Fugitive Agent 2: OSI asked for a meeting, and then suddenly we don’t work together anymore. What did they show you? What exactly are they asking you to do?
Fugitive Agent: I can’t talk about it, Fugitive Agent 2. I really am sorry. I gotta go.
Fugitive Agent 2: No, that’s not good enough for me.
Fugitive Agent: Let go of my arm.
Fugitive Agent 2: Hey, it’s cool. We’re cool. No need to give me that tone, or that look.
Fugitive Agent: What tone? What look?
Fugitive Agent 2: You’re treating me like one of our fugitives. You always say that there’s a line between us and them, and now it feels like you’ve drawn a new line, and left me on the wrong side of it.
Fugitive Agent: That was not my intention, I’m just trying to do my job.
Fugitive Agent 2: Your new job with OSI. I read the brief—or what was left of it after the redactors got their hands on it. The Fugitive Service has nothing to do with it anymore. When I said I was reassigned, I meant the whole department. Who are those detainees, and what makes them so important? This should be an open and shut case.
Fugitive Agent: I don’t know what to tell ya. That’s above my paygrade, same as you. I just go where I’m told, and right now, I’ve been told to go in deep.
Fugitive Agent 2: In deep? You’re undercover?
Fugitive Agent: I didn’t say that.
Fugitive Agent 2: But you are..undercover.
Fugitive Agent: You need to stop asking questions. I can’t protect you anymore.
Fugitive Agent 2: What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Fugitive Agent: You remember last fall; those kids from Baltimore?
Fugitive Agent 2: That wasn’t my fault. You didn’t lie for me. It was complicated.
Fugitive Agent: No, I didn’t lie, but I didn’t tell them the whole truth either. Now, I’m not threatening you. That goes to my grave, just like it was always going to. I’m just explaining that I can’t do those kinds of things for you anymore, and you can’t do them for me. You’re getting a new partner. Learn to trust them, and teach them to trust you. This is the nature of the business. We don’t always get to choose.
Fugitive Agent 2: Funny how you always seem to choose, and I always get screwed.
Fugitive Agent: Fugitive Agent 2. Fugitive Agent 2! Come on, don’t end it like this!

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 10, 2401

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A part of Mateo expected the sight to be more spectacular; that they would see countless worlds suddenly appear in the sky, but obviously it wouldn’t look like that. Even he knew that all those planets would all be ripped apart if they suddenly came close enough to each other to be seen by each other. There was nowhere you could be where you could witness more than one planet appear out of nowhere. Even if you could, Mateo wouldn’t be in such a place. The whole point was that the main sequence would be spared the Reconvergence. Nothing should change here.
“That’s not entirely true.” Mateo, Angela, and Marie spent the night in the nearest arcology to Stonehenge. Bhulan has just shown up.
“What do you mean?” Mateo questioned.
“You’re not in the main sequence right now. You’re in the Sixth Key.”
“So it didn’t work,” Angela assumed.
Bhulan stared at her for a weird length of time. “There are two main sequences now. The original is fine, right where it was before in Salmonverse. This one is a copy.”
“That’s not what I asked for. The Omega Gyroscope was meant to read my mind, and do what I wanted. And don’t tell me that it was an accident, like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, because I didn’t even consider this outcome. I wouldn’t have thought that would be a thing. I’m not—how you say—creative.”
Bhulan nodded, and stood up, pointing to his jacket hanging over the chair. “Were you wearing this when it happened?”
“Yeah,” Mateo answered. “Let me guess, I’ve been unknowingly wearing the Jacket of Duplication this whole time, or some bullshit like that.”
“It’s not the jacket,” she said with a shake of her head. She reached into one of the pockets, and then another, where she found the knife that Mateo used to replicate parts for the Olimpia, and also fail at fixing Heath when he was on the brink of death. He kind of forgot that it was in there. “Oh, crap. Are you serious? I forgot about that.. Like I said, I wasn’t thinking about making a copy of anything. I was trying to save the main sequence the headache of the Reconvergence stuff.”
“This is a temporal object,” Bhulan said, shaking it demonstratively, but not angrily, “just like the Cassano Cane, and the Omega Gyroscope. Sometimes they interact with each other, whether you mean for them to, or not. Who gave this to you?”
“The natives on an island we ended up on once,” Mateo answered. “They were...mysterious, and noncommunicative.”
Bhulan nodded again. “This is the same place where Angela got her immortality waters, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Angela confirmed. “That didn’t work. Or it did? Marie is alive, but I never found Activator water, so that whole ordeal is confusing.”
“I can’t explain how Marie survived what happened to her,” Bhulan began, “but you becoming immortal would not have done it. Yes, she’s an alternate of you, but you had become two independent beings. There was no reason why she would not have been able to die. The only thing that Time and Existence waters do is prevent someone from preventing you from existing and becoming immortal, and Marie has nothing to do with that anymore. I don’t know who told you it would—”
“We were just...desperate,” Angela explained. “And it seemed to work, so we figured that it was inevitable.”
“Bottom line,” Marie jumped in, “what does this mean? What can we do, what should we do? Why are you here?”
“I’m not here to talk about the main sequence, or the new main sequence,” Bhulan said. “That’s just something I noticed you were confused about. I’m here for that.” She pointed to the corner where Mateo had leaned the Cassano Cane and Omega Gyroscope against the walls. The latter was still hovering over the former. “They need to be destroyed, and I finally figured out how. The Reconvergence has not technically happened yet. The Keys were turned ahead of time, in case there was a delay or complication, but all the other parallel realities will collapse, and everything in them will be destroyed. This whole thing with the Third Rail started because I was there too early. I showed up at the beginning, but I should have appeared at the end. This is my chance.”
“Any objections?” Mateo asked the girls. “Go ahead,” he told Bhulan when they shook their heads. “It’s only here because Alyssa disappeared on us when I used it...incorrectly, and don’t know who’s supposed to have it.”
“I appreciate you not pushing back.” She walked over and reached for the cane, and as soon as her fingers wrapped around it, Ramses Abdulrashid appeared out of nowhere, and wrapped his own fingers around it. “Um...excuse me.”
“I need this,” Ramses said.
“Report,” Mateo asked.
Ram looked at him, but did not let go of the cane. “I don’t have long here, so I’ll just give you the highlights. I survived Phoenix Station. I found Olimpia stuck in the Sixth Key before its big bang. I was forced to join the Shortlist’s meeting for The Edge. I escaped, and now I have a new mission...which requires my use of the Cassano Cane.”
“Nuh-uh-uh, buddy,” Bhulan argued. “I have to destroy these things.”
Ramses pursed his lips, and then let a puff of air escape to make a popping sound. At the same time, he flicked the Omega Gyroscope off of the cane, letting it fall to the floor, and begin to roll away. The glow emanating from it shut off while it was doing this, so it didn’t get far before becoming entangled in the hundemarke chain that had been hidden inside while it was active. “You can destroy anything you want, but you can’t destroy this cane.”
“This is my only shot. Once I do this, I’ll be dead, and I won’t be able to take anything else with me.”
“Then I guess you won’t be the one to destroy it, if anyone even is ever. Let. Go.”
Ramses was not letting up, and neither was Bhulan. They did not want to cause physical harm to each other, though; that much was clear. Mateo cleared his throat. “Bhu. It was your mission to destroy the hundemarke, correct? Then someone gave you the Insulator of Life, and someone else gave you the Omega Gyroscope, right? You have the hundemarke. No one here wants to see that used again, and we don’t really care about the gyroscope. So just go with what you have. Rambo obviously needs that for something that none of us understand.”
Bhulan frowned and considered her options. In the end, she chose the path of least resistance when she let go. “Fine.”
“Will we ever see you again?” Marie asked Ramses.
“I don’t know, but I was there. In the Third Rail, when you didn’t know I was. I was watching over you, and now I just have one thing left to do. When I come back, I’ll give you this.” He opened his other hand to show them an antique rosary. It was once Mateo’s, before he was ripped out of the timestream during Arcadia’s expiations. When the Superintendent returned him decades later, he made him an atheist instead of Catholic, and they never saw the rosary again. He only would have cared about it because it was his once-mother’s centuries prior.
“I don’t need that,” Mateo told Ramses. “It’s not mine anymore.”
Ramses smiled. “Trust me, you’re gonna want it, if only to keep it out of the hands of someone who would abuse its power.” He tucked the cane under his arm to free that hand so he could hang the metallic beads from it. “They call it the Mateo Rosary. He closed his fist over the cross, and disappeared, making it seem as though it was the rosary what done it.
“I’m not familiar,” Marie noted.
“I’ve never heard of it either,” Bhulan said, “but I don’t think it was just a teleporter. It probably also belongs on the list of objects that I would want to destroy.”
“You’ll have to settle for what you have,” Mateo told her. “I promise, I’ll do everything I can to make sure the cane, the rosary, and anything else like them, don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Bhulan picked up the two objects, and disentangled the hundemarke, placing it around her neck. “I don’t doubt it.” She focused on the gyroscope, presumably trying to reactivate it. “I think Ramses did something to this. It’s...dead.” She looked pleased.
“That’s good, right?” Angela guessed.
“Yeah, that means it won’t be able to stop me from doing what I have to do.” Bhulan breathed a sigh of relief. “I die to save quintillions.” She disappeared as well.
“Whoa, does anybody else feel a little tired all of the sudden?” Marie posed.
The room around them changed. The furniture was moved around enough to cause the three of them to fall to the floor, and they were no longer alone. A couple was sitting on the couch with their young child.
“Sorry to disturb you,” Mateo said, standing up, massaging his coccyx.
“I recognize you,” the man said. “Why do I recognize you?”
“I recognize him too,” the woman corroborated.
“I just have one of those faces,” Mateo answered, not knowing the truth himself.
“We’ll leave you be,” Marie told them. “Apologies for the intrusion.” They left the unit, and stepped over to the nearest convenience terminal against the wall next to the elevator. “April 10, 2401. We jumped in time, just like we used to.”
“It wasn’t just like it,” Angela pointed out. “It wasn’t midnight central.”
“Yeah, it was,” Marie contended. “Well, it’s about fifteen ‘til one in Kansas, but close enough. It obviously happened because the Omega Gyroscope is finally gone.”
“What do we do now?” Angela questioned. “Where do we go?
“We have to find a way back to the real main sequence. That is where my wife is.”
“Are we sure about that?” Marie asked.
“No, you’re right, we’re not. In fact, there could be two of them now. Damn, I wish Ramses had stayed long enough to give us some details about that damn meeting.”
“If this is the Sixth Key,” Marie began, “then you know what we have to do, and it’s not looking for Leona.”
Mateo sighed, and nodded. “We have to assume she’s safe, but Olimpia may not be. I don’t know where to start with that trail either, though. Any ideas?”

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Edge: From Entrance to Exit (Part II)

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Pribadium directed Leona to a room where she and Ramses could have a private conversation, and also told them where they could find their bedrooms. The meeting wasn’t going to start until tomorrow, after formal introductions, and a fuller explanation of why there was to be an audience. “I figured, if you showed up, you would be from some time in the past.”
“I didn’t even wanna come now, but Pribadium forced me and Hogarth. I got the impression that she knows what’s going to happen to Olimpia, and either wants it to, or doesn’t think that it can be prevented.”
“Where is she?”
“The Sixth Key.”
“That’s what we guessed.
“But it’s complicated,” Ramses explained. “I think she’s the only one there. Let me start at the beginning. I didn’t find her by happenstance. I went there on purpose. Just before Phoenix Station blew up, I commanded the magic mirror to send me to Olimpia’s location after Dalton sent her away using his weird cane thing.”
“Oh! I should have thought of doing that. I keep forgetting that the mirror isn’t just for dead people. It can go to any point, any time, as long as someone is already there. I’m such an idiot. So, what happened after you found her? Is she okay?”
“Well, I didn’t find her right away. It was dark, but I came across two dudes who were working on the planet. I mean that literally. They were building the planet itself, or at least checking their work; I don’t know. They hadn’t seen her, but they agreed to help me look. We searched all night, kind of in concentric circles. The mirror was supposed to take me right to her,  so she couldn’t have been too far. Come morning, I felt something tap me on the shoulder. It freaked me out, but I was too curious to run away from the scary invisible monster. Of course, it was her. We decided that she was trapped in another dimension, because that’s what made the most sense. She was able to breathe, but there was nothing to eat. She could hear me if I yelled, but I couldn’t hear her at all. She can see through the dimensional just fine when she’s trying too, but if she loses focus, it sort of turns opaque. She was always able to get it back, she finds it claustrophobic. Because no matter how far she walks, the walls follow her. It’s like she was between two worlds, each one pressing up against her at all times.”
“You keep switching tense. Is she, or isn’t she, okay...the last time you saw her?”
“Kind of both. The dudes knew Hogarth Pudeyonavic, so they went off to ask her for help. She was the one who figured out where Olimpia truly was. She used Hokusai Gimura’s goggles to look through to the other side, and to communicate better with her. But then Pribadium showed up, and spirited us away. Hogarth said that the Sixth Key isn’t really there yet. It’s like this primordial reality that’s waiting for the Keys to do whatever it is they’re gonna do to make it exist. That’s as much as she was able to explain before Hokusai took her away to discuss this meeting we’re apparently gonna have. I know that the Keys are people, and they’re going to make a new reality, where all the people in the other realities are gonna live together.”
“Yeah, that’s all done. I mean, it’s not complete yet, but they’re doing it. I thought we weren’t going to have to deal with it anymore, but Olimpia’s situation changes everything. We can’t just leave her there. Ramses, they have someone who can literally move planets. She can transport them to other universes. She moved the Third Rail version of Earth to the Fourth Quadrant reality already, and she’s gonna do it with the countless other worlds. What’s that going to do to Olimpia? That much energy, that much gravity. That’s not a safe place to be. It’s dangerous to be in a falling elevator, but it’s even more dangerous to be standing at the bottom of the shaft while it’s falling. We have to go help her. We have to get the hell out of there.”
“Is that possible? We don’t seem to wield any power here. I feel like a space whale in a nebula around these people.”
“Little fish, big ocean.”
“Oh.” Leona sighed, and thought over their options. “You’re right, we’re the lowest men on the totem pole, which isn’t surprising. I barely belong here.  Where did Hokusai take Hogarth? Did you see?”
“If we get back to the portal, I can head in the right direction, but I can’t tell you where they went after that.”
She shook her head. “No, and they could have taken a teleporter to the other side of the planet for all we know. I do wanna look at that portal, though. There must be something special about it if everyone is coming through there, instead of just random spots in the area.”
Ramses took her by the hand, and tried to teleport them both away. “No, it’s no use. They’re blocking my power.”
“That’s okay. I remember where it is.”
They walked back through Town Square, and down to where they first came through from their respective locations. In front of the portal was someone they knew from back in the day. “Hello, you two.”
“Mirage. It’s been a long time for us.”
“Longer for me, I’m sure.”
“It’s been about four and a half billion years for me.”
Mirage laughed. “I stand, corrected.”
“You our way.”
“I can’t let you try to leave.”
“Just the fact that you’re on guard tells me that there is a way through,” Leona calculated, “and that means I’m going to take it, because that’s what I want.”
“Not here. You don’t get what you want while you’re here. I’ve been asked to keep anyone out using whatever means necessary, short of murder, of course. But then, you would just go to the afterlife simulation anyway, wouldn’t you?”
“You know about that?” Ramses asked.
“I’ve been briefed.”
Leona nodded. “I think you’re confused. It doesn’t matter where I am, or who I’m with. I get what I want because I take it. I’m taking that portal. You can use all the brute force you want, I will figure this out. It’s what I do.”
Mirage emulated a human sigh. “Pribadium Delgado built this portal herself. It is incompatible with conventional time tech and time powers. It operates on her own special protocols. If you try to step through, you could end up lost in time forever. There’s a reason why she’s the one who retrieved everyone from wherever they were.”
“I’ve seen Pribadium’s technology. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I noticed similarities between it, and other tech I’ve encountered. It may not be as original as you think. She may not even realize that she didn’t come up with it herself.”
“I don’t know why that matters,” Mirage said.
“Hey, Opsocor? Are you there?”
I’m here, Leona,” came the voice of the Nexus network from the aether.
Mirage was stunned. “Who’s that? Where are you?” She stepped into a defensive position, and narrowed her eyes, probably activating all of her sensors to find the source of the supposed intruder.
I am everywhere.
“She’s a god,” Leona explained.
No, I’m not.
“I’ve heard it both ways,” Leona responded. “Opsocor, can you help me navigate using this portal?”
I can, if that’s really what you want.
“Why would I not want that?” Leona questioned.
It sounds like these people would like to have a full roster.
“Without me and Ramses, they’ll still have a quorum. They don’t need us,” Leona explained. “They probably won’t take our opinions into account. They usually don’t.”
Very well. Please step aside, child,” Opsocor requested.
Mirage was super offended. “Who are you calling a child?” There was nothing she could do about it. Her feet started to slide along the floor, all the way to the wall, which she found herself pressed up against, hopelessly unable to move. “I’m not even magnetic,” she complained.
“Don’t hurt her, please,” Leona asked.
Of course not,” Opsocor replied.
“You understand where I want to go?”
Yes. Go ahead, I have your destination queued up. But just you.
“Thanks.” Leona reached forward and opened the door. “Wait, why just me?”
“Leona Bluebell Matic, do not step through that door!” Pribadium shouted from down the hallway.
“That is not anywhere close to my middle name. Where are you getting that?”
“Goddamn bug,” Pribadium muttered as she walked towards them, tapping on a handheld device.
I am not a bug,” Opsocor insisted. “I keep telling you, this is my people’s tech. Your brain picked up on the persistent psychic signals that bounce around—
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Pribadium made one final tap, and released Mirage from the wall. “Please stop her from leaving.”
Mirage took Leona by the shoulders, and held her in place. “Sorry.”
“Ram, go, please!” Leona pleaded
“No!” all three of the others shouted, but it was too late. He jumped through the portal without a second of hesitation.
Pribadium shook her head. “I think you just killed him. Isn’t that right, bug?”
Opsocor took a long time to answer, but she did answer. “It’s possible.

Leona woke up in her room the next day feeling like shit. Before Pribadium suppressed Opsocor’s presence in the system for what sounded like the upteenth time, Opsocor explained that the portal was tailored to her neurology, and her genetics. That was why only she was allowed to go through. She was intending to reinitiate the portal for him once she was through, but they weren’t meant to go at the same time, or out of order. There was a chance that he was vaporized or spaghettified so quickly that he didn’t even feel it, but he also could have appeared inside of a star, somewhere in outer space, somewhere in the outer bulk, or in something that she called the kasma, which was basically a particular region of the outer bulk. The chances that he landed anywhere safely were not zero, but they were close. She still had faith, though. They thought he died on Phoenix Station, and all of their lives were in danger tons of other times. The guy was pretty resilient. If anyone was going to find Olimpia again, it would be him.
Leona was startled when she saw that Pribadium was sitting at the table on the other side of her bedroom. “Christ!”
“Sorry to scare you.”
“I don’t need a guard. You’ve sealed up that whole section. I couldn’t leave if I wanted to. Opsocor isn’t answering me.”
“I can’t let what happened to Ramses happen to you.”
Leona got out of bed, and looked at her body in the mirror like Buffalo Bill. “I wonder what you look like naked?”
She transformed herself into a likeness of Pribadium.
“I...didn’t know that you could do that.”
“I think I’ll walk around the planet like this, making you look like a fool.”
“This is the future, Leona. No one cares.”
“Well, I have to do something to get back at you. Everything would have been fine if you had just let me go. I don’t blame myself. I blame you.
“Well, I know that—”
“And I don’t care about The Edge,” she said in a mocking tone. “All I’ll do at the meeting is oppose you. You could say that we should give the public time powers, and I’ll disagree. You could say that we should prevent all the children from dying, and I’ll say that we should kill them. Now, you can try to use reverse psychology to your advantage, but we will never come to a consensus, because you and I will always be at odds.”
“Don’t be so petty.”
“Oh, you’ve not seen petty, Pribadium Delgado. Like you said, this is the future. Everyone’s cool. Everyone’s woke. Nobody’s angry. I’m angry!” On that word, she turned herself into a particularly large zombie that she recalled from an episode of Z Nation named Sarge. He was portrayed by a man in makeup, rather than via CGI, which was why Leona was able to steal his light for the illusion.
Pribadium jumped up, and backed away from the monster, but she quickly composed herself, and decided that it wasn’t real. “Be in Lylla Hall in two hours for introductions. This is bigger than you or me, or Ramses. Please recognize that, and do your job. You may not have come up with the idea of The Shortlist—neither did I—but you’ve participated in the past. I hope you can remember why.” She walked out.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Microstory 1915: The Other Bond

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Fugitive Agent: So, how do you feel, man?
Fugitive Agent: What was in that stuff you had me drink?
Fugitive Agent: It was just bitterwater. Literally water with rhubarb and hops.
Fugitive Agent: Well, I feel...
Fugitive Agent: Free? That’s because of the decision you made to join us. It’s not magic, and there was nothing in the water, or on the knife that cut your palm. This is all you, buddy. Welcome to The Bond.
Fugitive Agent: I caught all the rules, but they never mentioned how to ask for a favor. Do I have to give one to get one, errr...?
Fugitive Agent: Nah, man. We all know your situation, and that it’s time sensitive. You’ll have to reaffirm your promise that no harm will come to the escapees you’re looking for, but our network will find them for ya. Someone in this town has to know something.
Fugitive Agent: I appreciate it. Can I put my clothes back on now?
Fugitive Agent: No one told you to take them off.
Fugitive Agent: What?
Fugitive Agent: *laughing* I’m kidding. Yeah, here you go. I’ll meet you outside, okay?
Fugitive Agent: Thanks.
Freewoman: We don’t have to do that.
Fugitive Agent: Whoa. Who are you?
Freewoman: I’m an ex-con too. We meet in the other basketball court.
Fugitive Agent: Sorry, I didn’t know anyone else would be in this supply room.
Freewoman: It’s okay. You ain’t got nothin’ I’ve never seen before.
Fugitive Agent: So, what were you saying?
Freewoman: The nudity thing. And the blood pact. We don’t do that to form our bond.
Fugitive Agent: Oh, they never said that there was another bond group.
Freewoman: Well, there is. We heard about you. I have to say, by only bonding with them, you’re missing out on about eleven percent of the people who could help you.
Fugitive Agent: Like I said, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t be able to join, though, would I?
Freewoman: *smirking* There’s a way for you to join without joining.
Fugitive Agent: I don’t understand.
Freewoman: You would have to go through another ceremony, but it’s not like the one you just had, or even the one I had for mine.
Fugitive Agent: What does it involve?
Freewoman: It’s like...a sort of...marriage.
Fugitive Agent: Come again?
Freewoman: If you were to get couple bonded with—say, me—I could conscript my girls to look out for your escapees, in addition to the guys you already have on it.
Fugitive Agent: That really does sound like marriage.
Freewoman: You would be free to marry someone in real life, if you wanted. We don’t go get a marriage certificate at the law station. It’s for cross-promotional purposes only.
Fugitive Agent: Can I think about it?
Freewoman: Of course, but I’m not the one working under a deadline, am I?

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Microstory 1914: The Bond

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Parole Counselor: Come on in, Officer. I don’t know how much I can help you, though. All of my people are accounted for. I never worked with any of the men who escaped from jail the other day.
Fugitive Agent: It’s Agent, and I’m not looking for information on your people. I’m hoping that one of them can help me find where the escapees are now.
Parole Counselor: What you’re talking about is a snitch. We don’t...encourage such behavior here. It tends to get the snitch killed.
Fugitive Agent: I understand that, and I want you—and your parolees—to know that I’m not looking for the escapees because I wanna lock them back up. Three of them are nonviolent, and honestly, I feel for the violent one. It’s only the fifth one that I’m interested in. I’m willing to listen to him, whereas other members of law enforcement were not. He may be able to help us with a global existential threat.
Parole Counselor: We don’t call them parolees in this context. They’re freemen.
Fugitive Agent: I’ll remember that. Do you think they would be willing to help? Is there any way I could guarantee that I won’t arrest anyone in this matter?
Parole Counselor: A way to guarantee it? From their perspective?
Fugitive Agent: What is it? Why are you laughing?
Parole Counselor: Well, there’s a way to do it, but you may not like the consequences.
Fugitive Agent: What? Am I gonna have to prove myself by committing a crime with them, or something?
Parole Counselor: No. In fact, one of the rules is that they’re not allowed to ask you to help commit a crime. And that’s not just because you’re a lawman. It’s our rule.
Fugitive Agent: Well, then what does this entail?
Parole Counselor: It involves a ceremony. There will be blood. What it will do is bond you to them for life. The counselor who trained me came up with it, and it’s been proven to work. You basically commit your loyalty to them. You agree to leave your old life behind, and start a new one with the group, and adhere to our ideals. Once you do that, they’ll help you with whatever you need, within reason, but you’ll be obligated to do the same. I can’t promise they’ll go for it. I’m the only bonded member who’s never been arrested before. They’re understandably wary of people like you. There’s a reason we don’t operate out of the law station with the other departments in this ambit.
Fugitive Agent: If you convince them to let me in, I’ll do whatever it takes to stay in, even after this case is over, and I return to the central office. But I do want to make sure they won’t ask me to help them get their records expunged, or any other abuse of my power. I still have to maintain my commitment to the badge.
Parole Counselor: They won’t ask you anything like that. Leaving their old lives behind doesn’t mean they forget them. It’s important that they recognize where they come from, and how much they’ve accomplished since. Besides, they would see it as an abuse of power just as much as you. It’s enough to get them kicked out of the bond.
Fugitive Agent: All right. Tell me what I have to do.
Parole Counselor: You’ll have to wait here while I confer with them. Like I said, they may not even consider letting you in. I cannot compel them. I’m not their leader.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Microstory 1913: Special Investigations

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Special Investigator: I appreciate you coming to me, I just couldn’t get away from the office today. It’s a madhouse. Unrelated.
Fugitive Agent: That’s all right, I don’t mind. Is this about my current case?
Special Investigator: It’s about one of the escapees. We don’t care about the others.
Fugitive Agent: Let me guess, it’s this mysterious so-called parole officer that no one knows anything about.
Special Investigator: We are very interested in who he is, and how he got here.
Fugitive Agent: Does the Office of Special Investigations think that he’s some kind of major threat to national security?
Special Investigator: Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m going to show you something that pertains specifically to your case, and then I’m going to show you something that may have nothing to do with it, or it may mean everything.
Fugitive Agent: Okay, go ahead.
Special Investigator: Watch both monitors closely. This camera is showing the lobby of the hotel. This other one is showing the exterior. Wait for it... Wait for it...there.
Fugitive Agent: Hm. That’s weird. Are you sure these are synced up correctly?
Special Investigator: Absolutely certain. Your man walks out of the hotel without ever actually being in the hotel. He appears out of nowhere, and it doesn’t seem to faze him one bit. To him this is normal.
Fugitive Agent: No, there has to be a logical explanation. A glitch, erased footage...
Special Investigator: That what I would guess if I were in your shoes, but then again, I haven’t shown you the other footage yet.
Fugitive Agent: Can I see this one one more time?
Special Investigator: Certainly.
Fugitive Agent: [...] Wow, that looks so real. The door doesn’t open from the inside. It really looks like it’s just two different scenes spliced together.
Special Investigator: It’s not. Look at that newspaper blowing in the wind on the sidewalk. You can see it on both cameras.
Fugitive Agent: You’re right. I don’t understand it.
Special Investigator: Then you definitely won’t understand this.
Fugitive Agent: *peering at the screen* What the hell is that thing?
Special Investigator: We’re still figuring that out.
Fugitive Agent: It looks like a giant...dragonfly, or maybe a cicada.
Special Investigator: It won’t speak, but it clearly understands English. It reacts predictably to verbal threats. It showed up six months ago. We’ve been studying it.
Fugitive Agent: Fascinating, but forgive me, what does it have to do with my guy?
Special Investigator: This...thing showed up on camera too. A meteorologist happened to be doing some kind of weather research nearby at the time of its arrival. It presented very unusual readings, so we’ve been secretly installing sensors all over the country, including near enough where the parole officer showed up.
Fugitive Agent: He set off the sensors, didn’t he? What do you want me to do?
Special Investigator: We want you to do what you were doing. Find him. For us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Microstory 1912: Henhouse, Outhouse, and Doghouse

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Fugitive Agent: Thank you all for coming to this meeting. I promise that we won’t take up too much of your time, but we do have a few questions regarding this recent jailbreak of yours, which is—let’s see—the fourth this year? Whew, that sounds like a lot? Does that sound like a lot to you, Fugitive Agent 2? That sounds like a lot. Let me check the area stats. Yeah, that’s a lot. Okay, so. Who’s to blame here? [...] No takers?
Fugitive Agent 2: I don’t think they heard you.
Fugitive Agent: Didn’t hear me? Is that right, folks? Did you not hear me? Well, if this station hired a bunch of deaf people, maybe we need to run a clean sweep. Do you agr—
Senior Guard: That will not be necessary. We heard you just fine.
Fugitive Agent: It won’t—let’s see—Senior Guard? Are you taking responsibility?
Senior Guard: I didn’t say that.
Fugitive Agent: Well, one of your men was on duty on the night in question, correct?
Senior Guard: He was, but we were understaffed. Street Proctor arrested a fifth detainee, which overbooked our cell in terms of guards.
Fugitive Agent: Proctors can’t make arrests.
Street Proctor: I didn’t arrest anyone. You can check the records. Police Officer 11 is the arresting officer of record.
Police Officer 11: I am? I wasn’t even there. I was off work for the last two days.
Fugitive Agent: Street Proctor, did you falsify records?
Street Proctor: No, I didn’t. Of course, I didn’t. He probably was here. It was probably him who falsified the records. Like you said, I can’t make arrests, and everyone knows that, so even if I tried, the so-called detainee, who I supposably arrested should have refused, but he didn’t even argue against me. I mean, because I didn’t even try, because I can’t arrest people. I don’t even have handcuffs. Look.
Fugitive Agent: Yes, I wanted to ask about the last person who was placed in the jail cell. He claimed to be a parole officer, and even presented a badge? Evidently it was this that he used to escort the other four men out of this building without so much as picking a lock. Senior Parole Officer, care to comment?
Senior Parole Officer: All of my men are accounted for. If this man really was on the job, he was from a different station, and since there aren’t any records of his arrival, I can say nothing more about it.
Fugitive Agent: Thank you, Senior Parole Officer; the only man here whose words I believe to be actually true. Speaking of which, now that we know that it was Street Proctor who tried to arrest this mysterious parole officer, I assume it was you, Senior Proctor, who received him? [...] You may as well be honest; the order of events is pretty obvious here. Lying now isn’t gonna save your job.
Senior Proctor: I received him, yes. I interrogated him for a few minutes, then asked my subordinate to detain him. But I didn’t know that an officer didn’t make the arrest.
Street Proctor: Bullshit! You’re a liar!
Fugitive Agent: Settle down, now. I still have more questions. I wanna know who else knew about it. Senior Police Officer, what was your involvement in this mess?

Monday, June 19, 2023

Microstory 1911: Shift Laws

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Senior Guard: Jail Guard, could you come into my office?
Jail Guard: Yeah, boss?
Senior Guard: I noticed that the male jail cell is empty at the moment.
Jail Guard: Oh, you’re right. It is, isn’t it?
Senior Guard: Why do you think that is?
Jail Guard: Looks like they broke out, sir. Happens about once a year.
Senior Guard: True. Care to hazard a guess as to the number one way detainees and inmates find themselves capable of breaking out of whatever lock up facility they’re in?
Jail Guard: Bad craftsmanship?
Senior Guard: Help from the inside. You were posted at that cell earlier today.
Jail Guard: I suppose I was. I did have to go out for coffee.
Senior Guard: How long were you gone?
Jail Guard: Only about ninety minutes.
Senior Guard: [...]
Jail Guard: I didn’t help them escape. I just didn’t watch them.
Senior Guard: Of course. Were you aware that the law states that at least two guards are required to be posted at a holding site where five or more detainees are being held?
Jail Guard: I think I did know that. Does that mean you erred?
Senior Guard: It does not. My roster is sound. It was a proctor who brought in the fifth detainee, which means it would have been the proctor department’s responsibility to supply your backup. Just for confirmation, did they fulfill this requirement?
Jail Guard: They did not. I was alone.
Senior Guard: And you are allowed to leave for food, beverage, and personal hygiene reasons once every two hours, correct?
Jail Guard: Correct. That is also the law.
Senior Guard: When you left for coffee, and...personal hygiene reasons, had it been two hours since your last break?
Jail Guard: *frowns* No, it had only been about an hour.
Senior Guard: No. No, look at this, see? You logged your break at 17:00 earlier this evening. I have it right here on the records. Those are your initials, aren’t they?
Jail Guard: Impossible, sir. I eat my dinner at exactly 18:00. I’m on a particular diet.
Senior Guard: Yeah, I remember, but something was different about today. You were so hungry, you took a break at 17:00, and then at 19:15, you needed another break, and since you were alone, you had to leave the detainees alone. And that’s not your fault. It’s not my fault either. It’s the proctor department’s fault. Do we understand each other?
Jail Guard: I think so, sir.
Senior Guard: *sighs* I know you have trouble remembering things sometimes, so when the fugitive department questions you regarding this matter, just tell them that you do not recall, and ask them to defer to the records, because you may not know much, but you know that the records are one hundred percent accurate. Okay?
Jail Guard: Okay, I think I can do that.
Senior Guard: Perfect. Now go finish your shift. They won’t come until tomorrow.