Monday, July 31, 2023

Microstory 1941: Uneven Trident

Generated by StarryAI text-to-image AI software
Myka: So, what is this formation called?
Reese: It’s called the Uneven Trident. The center tine is only responsible for heading for the objective. The two tines on either side are responsible for protecting them.
Myka: Why are we farther behind the right tine?
Reese: They’re responsible for protecting the leaders. We’re responsible for protecting them as well as the leaders. This is the standard configuration for a six-person team on an extended journey, as opposed to a specific raid.
Myka: It’s funny that you have all these different arrangements, yet fugitive agents generally work alone.
Reese: We like to be prepared, for anything.
Leonard: *click, click, click*
Reese: They found something. Head on up there. Wave your girls over there too. I’m gonna run a fifty meter radius perimeter sweep.
Myka: *approaching Leonard and Freewoman 3.* What is it?
Leonard: The footsteps stop here, and then there’s this thing.
Myka: What is it?
Freewoman 3: Some kind of pattern in the sand. Pretty large, by the looks of it.
Myka: *straightening her posture as much as possible* What does this look like to you, Freewoman 2? I’ll give you a hint; it was in that movie we watched last week.
Freewoman 2: *getting a better look too* It kind of looks like a crop circle.
Leonard: *placing an ear on the ground* It may be my imagination, but I think I hear...machinery?
Freewoman 4: Maybe it’s their ship.
Leonard: They didn’t come in a ship.
Freewoman 3: There’s nothing out here. We’re so far away from any sort of semblance of civilization, if you’re hearing anything, it’s manmade. Or alienmade, as it were.
Reese: Y’all seein’ this? It’s big. It’s really big. More than a hundred meters wide. I stepped on it. There’s something different about the ground where it’s been depressed. It’s...harder, like there’s something buried just underneath.
Freewoman 3: If we think there’s a ship buried just underneath the ground, there must be a way to access it. What do we do, try to open it?
Leonard: Why is everybody lookin’ at me?
Reese: You’re the closest we have to a resident alien expert. What do you think? If we find a door, should we open it?
Leonard: If we find a door, yeah, I guess that’s why we’re here, right? At least that’s why you and I are. The rest of you can leave now to protect yourselves.
Myka: We’re staying. Six-person team, right?
*the other free women cock their guns*
Reese: Are you legally allowed to carry those firearms?
Freewoman 2: Nope. *points her gun at the ground* Wanna fight about it?
Reese: Not at this juncture. Welp. This triangle is precisely where the footprints end, so I’m guessing it’s the entrance. Let’s see if we can’t figure this out.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 15, 2406

Generated by Canva text-to-image AI software
When the team was trying to escape the Fifth Division, and return home, they knew that they wouldn’t be able to take their ship, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with them. They didn’t want just anyone to be able to steal it, though, which was why they flew it into a crevice in a random asteroid, and powered it down so that it wouldn’t be detected. There was a chance that someone would find it anyway, but it was programmed to purge all of its data should anyone but a member of the team try to use it in any way, so they took the gamble. They still did not have a map of this universe. All of the worlds that Kyra Torosia transported from their respective parallel realities were seemingly spit out wherever she could find space, except for the five versions of Earth, which were placed in a very orderly arrangement, very close to one another. None was more than two light years from any other, allowing for fast ferrying between them. They might not have been able to find the AOC on their own, but apparently their old friend, Xerian Oyana found it for them. It was only about 185 light years away, so they set a course for it, and let their pattern send them all to the future while Constance!Three flew their shuttlecraft the full distance in reframe time.
“I didn’t find it,” Xerian explained once they were all aboard the AOC together. “I was told to come here six years ago.”
“Who told you this?” Leona questioned.
“Someone who you may call a seer. He said that I had to get myself to your ship, and wait here until a certain amount of time had passed. I came here in my own little personal ship, but it disappeared, and I can’t get this thing to fly. Fortunately, life support has remained in working order, and your synthesizer still works. That’s all I’ve been able to do, though. I’ve just been stuck here.”
Leona nodded, and thought about it. “Did you leave anyone alive on your ship?”
“What, you think I killed a bunch of people?” Xerian asked, offended.
“No,” Leona replied. “I mean, did you come here alone, or were there other people on that other ship? Even just one?”
“I was completely alone,” Xerian answered.
Leona nodded again. “And you haven’t been able to make contact with anyone?”
“No one but you. I sent the message years ago, but I didn’t think you would ever come back. I know you left our reality.”
“Leona?” Mateo asked. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Kyra. She had the ability to move entire worlds, and also ships, and other stations, but she only cared about the inhabited ones. She didn’t need the entire galaxy to come through. It would have been too much work.” She looked back over at Xerian. “Someone wanted the AOC to be transfered, but they didn’t care about your own ship.”
“I don’t understand,” Xerian said, shaking his head. So they explained to him what had happened with the Reconvergence, leaving out a lot of unnecessary details, such as all of their friends’ involvement. “So, I’m not home anymore?”
“Everyone you ever cared about should still be around,” Olimpia told him, “unless they died in the six years since. But your ship, and any other belongings you left in a place without any other people, they may be gone.”
Xerian dismissed the thought. “I don’t care about any of that. I’m just lost here. Everyone else has had six years to get used to whatever new political landscape has arised, and I’ve been marooned.”
“We can try to take you somewhere,” Leona began to suggest, “or I’ll restore the AOC’s system, and you can go yourself. The reframe engine isn’t the fastest in the universe, but you can have it. Better than a lightyear drive. We’ve upgraded, but we still only have reframe capabilities.”
“Would you really just give me this?” Xerian asked, hopeful. “It’s not as fast as a Nexus, no, but it’s an upgrade for me.”
“Sure.” Leona faced the group. “Can I get a ride back to the Dante real quick?”
Angela reached out, and took Leona’s hand. They teleported up there together. “Can you restore the AOC’s AI?”
“I can’t,” Leona said. “I can give him Constance, though.”
“Do we really wanna do that?”
“I meant, I can give him a stunted version of her, just enough to make things work. It will be able to follow prompts, but not think for itself.” She set the kettlebell drive that was storing the Constance AI on the interface table. “Connie, you understand what I want?”
You want a dumber Constance, so Xerian doesn’t get too powerful.
“It’s not about him,” Leona clarified. “I don’t want there to be more than one version of you out there. You belong with our team, and our team alone.”
I don’t know if that’s sweet, or overly possessive.
“I don’t know if my request bothers you, or you’re fine with it,” Leona retorted.
A slot popped out of the front of the kettlebell drive, presenting them with a simple-looking USB stick. “If Dumb!Constance is all you want, then you don’t need to lug that huge thing back down to your friend. Plug that into the AOC, and it will upload itself into everything.
“Thanks, Con,” Leona said appreciatively.
My data suggests that Xerian Oyana prefers a masculine personality in his AI. Dumb!Constance is named Costas.
Leona laughed. “Okay.”
She and Angela jumped back down to their old ship, and plugged the memory stick into the central computer. The systems immediately began to rev up to full power, raising the lights to a more comfortable level, and warming up the engine. This could be the last time they ever hear that sound. The end of an era. This vessel had served them well, but it was over two hundred years old, and it was time to move on. It was great that it was going to continue on for someone else who needed it. “Where will you go?”
“I have to figure out what my life looks like now,” Xerian began. “I’m gettin’ old. Can’t keep fighting forever. But I know where to start.”
“I wish you luck.” Leona shook his hand, then took Angela’s again.
“That’s it?” Mateo asked once they were back on the Dante. “We’re leaving him down there, alone? With our old ship?”
“He’s not our problem anymore,” Leona explained. “I don’t want to keep dealing with the same things—and the same people—that we have in the past. I want to move forward. Does anyone here not agree?”
“I certainly agree with that,” came Ramses’ voice from the helm. They hadn’t noticed him sitting there, facing away from them, legs propped up on the control panel. He spins to face them.
“Are you back?”
Ramses scans their few faces. “Doesn’t look like it.”
“What do you mean by that?” Leona questioned.
He waves his hand in front of him. “This isn’t the Ramses you’re looking for.”
“I’m from the future. I have been this whole time. Your Ramses; the one who stepped through that portal on Altair. He’s the one you need to be waiting for. I’ve already been through all that.”
“Then why are you here? What is your purpose?” Mateo pressed.
He pulled something out of his breast pocket. He set a glass vial on the arm of the navigator’s seat. Then he reached behind him and pulled out a gun. “I came for blood.”
“What blood?” Leona asked.
Leona narrowed her eyes, then dropped the illusion that was making her look like herself, instead of the body she was in, which was Alyssa’s. “It wouldn’t be my blood.”
“That’s exactly why I need it.”
She didn’t expect that, even though it shouldn’t be a surprise. If this Ramses was from the future, then he would know all about this situation. “You’re building us new bodies, and you want us to be able to create illusions.”
“We need to be able to create illusions,” Future!Ramses claimed. “Our future endeavors depend on it. That was the one thing I missed, and why I came back.”
“So, you’re not fulfilling your own fate. You created a new timeline.”
Future!Ramses nodded. “When I’m done, helping you, I’ll go off to live on my own somewhere.” He played with the metal beads that he now always had in his hand. “It may not be this time, or this universe. I haven’t decided yet.”
“You’re giving up,” Leona asked, “on the team. You’re letting a different you have it. The other, other you never got over that. Tanadama, or whatever.”
Future!Ramses chuckled. “I’m stronger than him.”
“Or you’re not him.” Leona inhaled, and closed her eyes. She kept them closed as she reached out, and swung her hand down slowly, pulling the illusory light away from Future!Ramses’ face, and revealing the true face beneath. It wasn’t Ramses at all, but yet another Leona. She opened her eyes again, and exhaled. “Why?”
“I didn’t lie about my reasons for being here, only about who I am,” Alt!Leona said. “I chose his face, because I knew he wouldn’t be with you, and you needed to be able to trust whoever showed up. Generally speaking, people don’t trust alternate versions of themselves.
“But if you’re an illusionist, that’s not really a Leona body anyway. It’s Alyssa’s.”
“No,” Alt!Leona insisted. “My face, my illusion power. My timeline was very different than yours. We found Alyssa too, but it took longer, and...we lost her. They lost me too, but a friend had to choose to save one of us, and they chose my body...” She breathed in deep. “And her lungs. What I need now is her full DNA.”
“You are Alt!Leona,” the real Leona said. “You’re the one from the timeline where Mateo was trapped in the dimension where time only lasts for ten seconds. You rescued and rehabilitated him, and then you just disappeared. Still, you went to the Third!Rail, met a version of Alyssa? How similar was your timeline to mine?”
“I’m not gonna give you my full history,” Alt!Leona contended. “I’m not here to give you anything. I’m here to take your blood, and tell you where to find your new substrates in one year’s time.”
“Let me guess...” Mateo interjected, “Phoenix Station.”
Alt!Leona chuckled again. “No. The Phoenix is a symbol for rebirth and new beginnings. The Scorpion symbolizes growth and advancement. You didn’t die, you just...need to change.” Alt!Leona spun partly back around, and tapped on the controls. “Be at Scorpius Station next year. You’ll know what to do with what you find.”
“There is no Scorpius constellation in the Sixth Key,” Leona reminded her self.
Alt!Leona smiled. “Who said you were still in the Sixth Key?”
Just then, the back hatch transformed. It was still a hatch, but a different one; a much smaller one, just enough for a single person to walk through. It opened, revealing Arcadia Preston on the other side. “Hi, kids.”
“This is the Prototype,” Leona realized.
“Indeed. And I believe you’ve been missing a member of your team?” Arcadia took one step into the Dante, and hopped over to the side. Ramses—presumably the real Ramses—was behind her, as well as a stranger.
They all exchanged hugs, especially he and Olimpia, who he was this close to rescuing before ultimately failing. In this time, Arcadia said her goodbyes, and left with the Prototype. All right, I still need to introduce you to a new friend of mine. Leona, Mateo, Angela, Marie, Olimpia, this is Maximino Lécuyer. Max, this is the team.”
“Hi. It’s nice to meet you all. He talked a lot about you on the way here.”
“We have to help him,” Ramses went on. “He’s looking for a—what was it—a coat which can control his reality.”
“It’s a flipcoat,” Max began to explain himself. “It doesn’t control reality, per se. If I’m wearing it, and I’m using it right, everything that can happen, and I want to happen, will happen. Well, as long as it’s relatively plausible. There is a remote chance that a pink elephant will suddenly fly through your viewport, and I may even want that, but the reality where that actually happens is so far from what’s truly happening that forcing such an outcome is nigh impossible, or may as well be.”
“Quantum immortality. Sounds simple enough. None of us can do that, but we know a few people. Can it wait? We have somewhere to be next year.”
I’ll keep him company in the intervening time,” Constance promised.
“Is that okay?” Leona asked Max. “We sort of...”
“Exist one day per year,” Max finished. “Yeah, Ram told me all about it. As long as I can go back to my home universe to help my friends, and save the galaxy, I can occupy my time.”
Leona turned to face the helm. “All right, Con-Con. Lay in a course for Scorpius Station, so we can get our new bodies, maximum reframe.”
Course laid in, Captain.
“What will you say?” Marie asked. “Engage? Hit it? One of the others?”
Leona shook her head. “I don’t want to use something that’s already been used before, and one of them is just stupid. So instead, I’ll go with...” She looked at each of them for inspiration, which she ultimately found in Ramses. “Yalla.”

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Extremus: Year 50

Generated by Canva text-to-image AI software
Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten of the Void Migration Ship Extremus, died nearly a week ago at the age of 46. She died as she lived: young. She was the youngest captain in history, which wasn’t saying much when she was only the third captain so far, but by the time this mission ends, she will likely still hold the record. The whole ship is in mourning, more so than they were for when Halan Yenant pass away, because she was a lot less polarizing of a figure. Due to her health issues, she was never promoted to the rank of admiral, leaving current Captain, Soto Tamm without an advisor. The admiralty has always come with an asterisk, and that will not end anytime soon. Tinaya Leithe doesn’t care about that, though. She’s not on the executive crew yet, and maybe never will be. While she’s on track to sitting in that seat, today she’s still only a kid. She’s a kid whose aunt has just died.
The family had a small funeral service two days ago to honor their loved one. Today is the memorial service, which while there is no single room on the vessel that can accommodate every crewmember and resident of Extremus, will be considered a shipwide affair. Everyone is watching; literally, because the service will be streamed. This isn’t something that Tinaya is interested in at the moment, not under these circumstances. She did fine in her Public Presence class, which teaches students how to deal with the spotlight, but it didn’t take this into account, and it was never the plan for any of them to actually have to deal with it this early on. Again, they’re just kids.
Tinaya is sitting in her room. Her game controller is on the bed next to her, and she’s been holding down the joystick, forcing her character to roll along the ground of a moon, doing cartwheels. Three years ago, when her grandmother died, it was Kaiora who caught her playing this game to distract herself. They had a moment, which was probably just a Tuesday for the captain, but to Tinaya, it was profoundly everything. It was the day she realized that every captain—every person—gets to decide who it is they’re going to be. There is no single definitive rulebook for how one is supposed to act. From then on, she’s been trying very hard in school, and branching out to lots of different subjects, instead of relying on this expectation that everyone seems to have that she’s going to win the captaincy, whether she tries or not. That’s not how it works, even if it looks like that from the outside.
Lataran is next to her. She was watching the cartwheels, but now she’s yawning over and over and over again, and scratching at chest, having had to resort to her itchy black dress this morning, instead of the comfortable one, because it is still in the wash from the first funeral. They've grown closer over the course of the last year. They no longer call themselves close enough friends, but true friends, who tell each other everything, and feel safe enough with each other to fart when no one else is in the room, and to cover for each other when it happens among mixed company. She yawns again.
“Go to bed, Taran.” Kaiora’s finger slips upon hearing the sudden sound of her voice, and her character misses the last cartwheel, falling on her face. Good thing it isn’t real. “You don’t have to be there. You were at the real one.”
“You’re confused, Naya, this is the real one. It’s the one that everyone knows. It’s the one that they will have watched. It’s the one they’ll talk about. It’s the one they’ll consider when they’re deciding who’s going to be your First Lieutenant.” Lataran long ago gave up hope of becoming captain herself, and has been vying hard for second position. It’s not just about serving on the crew with her best friend, but about getting as close as she’ll reasonably get to glory. She’s not the only one in the School of Ship Administration who feels this way, and that’s not a new thing. Plenty of people are more interested in other positions, such as Lead Engineer, or Chief Medical Officer. The boy who told the two of them about the protest against Captain Soto Tamm last year, Rodari Stenger is convinced that Hock Watcher Caldr Giordana is getting old enough to be vacating his position by the time Rodari is of age. That’s what he wants. The job comes with more power than it sounds like.
Think of the devil, and he shall ring the doorbell. Tinaya and Lataran see him on the camera. He’s standing moderately impatiently...twitchy, even. He’s wearing his extremely tailored—and extremely executive—black suit, and looking side to side as if someone he hates, but who likes him, is looming in the darkness, waiting to pounce with a bunch of questions that he doesn’t want to answer.
“Open the door,” Tinaya commands the system.
“Hey. You two look ready.”
“You look worried,” Lataran points out.
“This is my first public appearance. It’s our last year in tertiary school. People are noticing now. They’re going to parade us around the service auditorium like prize cattle. You should be worried about it more than any of us. Aren’t you worried?”
“I made a decision earlier in the school year that I wasn’t going to worry about how people perceive me,” Tinaya begins to explain. “I’m not saying that I’m above it, but the more I dwell on it, the less natural I’ll look. If I go out there, and just be myself, they will receive me however they will. Good or bad, I won’t change for them. That’s not doing anyone any good.”
“Sorry to say, Tinaya; I know you’re going through a lot today, but that’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard from one of the smartest people I know.”
Tinaya breaks into laughter. “What did I just say about how I’ll be received?” She pauses a moment. “I don’t care what you think.”
“Well. You’re number one.”
It’s true, Tinaya and Tao Li have been chasing each other for first on the leaderboards since the beginning, but the former has maintained her place at the top since the beginning of this school year. Whoever’s there when it’s time to transition to college level studies will set the tone for the next three and a half years. “For now...”
“So, what exactly does that mean?” Rodari asks. “You’re not on the program to speak at the memorial, but when they open up the floor to anyone who would like to say a few words, a lot of people are going to divert their attention to you.”
“I’ve decided that I’m taking it a step further for this particular occasion,” Tinaya answers. “I won’t say a word. I’ve already discussed it with my family. Mourners can try to talk to me all they want. They can tell me how great of a captain she was, or how I must miss her so much. I won’t respond a guilty man in an interrogation room.” People won't like it. It’ll probably just irritate them, but she’s not gonna do anything only to make others feel more comfortable. Aunt Kaiora wouldn’t do that. Even if it cost her the captain's seat, she would always be herself. She always was herself.
Rodari eyes her, and lifts his chin. “Hm,” he says, ever so quietly. “I can respect that. Halan was a man of few words. The words he did say came at a higher value.”
“I’m not saying that I would, or will, captain that way, but...I’m not here to placate. If they want me to be in charge, then they’ll have to accept what that means. I have no intention of tricking them into believing I behave like anyone but me.”
All three of their wrist devices beep. They didn’t all set their respective alarms to precisely 11:24. They programmed them to go off with enough time to walk to their destination, plus a padding of three minutes for one more trip to the bathroom, or to touch up their hair. If the auditorium were eight minutes away from wherever they were standing, instead of three, their alarms would have gone off at 11:19 instead. “It’s time to prove it.” Rodari reaches out to take Tinaya’s hand cordially. “One way or another,” he says with a positive shake of his head, “they’re about to see the real Tinaya Leithe.”
They walk to the auditorium together, then separate from there. Tinaya has to sit with her family in the front row, and as close as she is with Lataran, Lataran is not part of that. Nearly everyone else is already seated. Only a few other stragglers are dipping themselves into the crowd of a thousand faces. Former First Lieutenant Lars Callaghan is standing at the podium, waiting for the clock to hit 11:30 on the dot before he begins. He’s like a robot, completely motionless. He doesn’t look nervous, or saddened, or anything, really. He looks...professional, and ready.
He clears his throat. “People of the VMS Extremus, for those of you who don’t know,  my name is Lars Callaghan. I served under two captains, Admiral Olindse Belo, and the woman we are here to honor today, Captain Kaiora Leithe. I was the former’s second lieutenant, before transitioning to first lieutenant for Kaiora. She and I didn’t always agree with each other, but that is not the lieutenant’s job. I was there to make sure she was running the ship soundly, and to step up when there was too much work for one person to do. We had a respectful and professional relationship, and she asked me to give her eulogy, because she knew that I would be reverent, honest, and most importantly, brief. This is not an all-day affair, and she would not want it to be. There is so much work to do here, and she would want all of you to get back to doing it.” Much of the audience is made up of the retired crewmembers, most of whom served under Kaiora, but others served under Halan and Olindse, and are still alive. The current crew is predominantly not here at all, because they already are busy running the ship. The most recent shift has just begun, and they have not yet even begun to think about appointing apprentices for the next one. So in reality, nobody has to get back to work.
Lars goes on, “Captain Leithe had to deal with a lot during her term. When this mission was first being conceived in a little bar on a rotating habitat in the Gatewood Collective, no one thought we would suffer through all of this. I can’t get into specifics in mixed company, but we all know the pain we’ve experienced over the course of the last fifty years. We came to find our descendants a new home. We sacrificed our old home for that dream, and we’ve sacrificed more since then. No one knew that better than Kaiora Leithe. Love, death, war. She ran the gamut. She also saw birth, and growth, and heartbreak. She was steadfast through it all, and when she got sick, she stepped aside gracefully, and trusted in the rest of us to keep it together. We are at the very beginning of a new chapter in the Extremus saga. A new captain has stepped onto the bridge, and it is my honor today to introduce you to him, who is our next speaker. Crew and residents of the Extremus, please help me in welcoming Captain Soto Tamm.”
The people clap half-heartedly. He’s not a hated man, but he’s so far not become their favorite captain either. He’s just sort of blah. Tamm walks over to the podium with a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Callaghan.” It’s conventional to address someone by their final rank, as long as they were not dismissed dishonorably. He accidentally breathes into the microphone. “A Maramon, a choosing one, and a ship captain walk into a bar...”

Friday, July 28, 2023

Microstory 1940: Walking in Circles

Generated by Canva text-to-image AI software
Reese: Are you sure this is going to work? We’ve been walking in literal circles forever, and so far, no one has shown up.
Leonard: Myka?
Myka: *holding the radio to her ear* One click back. My friends aren’t seeing anyone.
Leonard: Maybe we were wrong this whole time. Maybe no one has been following us.
Reese: Or they’re so confused about our odd behavior, they don’t know what to do.
Leonard: You’re right, this was a stupid plan. If we weren’t trying to follow these footprints, I would say we head for cover, but we’re just too exposed out here, and we’re wasting time. If we are being followed, they can probably wait us out.
Myka: No, it wasn’t a stupid plan, we’re just at too much of a disadvantage.
Leonard: Go ahead and make whatever clicks you need to make to tell them that we’re giving up. If your people are gonna help, we might as well work together. I don’t suppose they came with their own tent? Perhaps we can share.
Reese: How many are there? Three? This tent is designed for two. It’s technically big enough for three; or four if they’re comfortable with each other, but not a total of six.
Myka: Those three are my best survivors. Freewoman 2 can find water anywhere. Besides, this mission is only getting more dangerous. We need multiple on watch. But that’s tonight. We still have hours of daylight to go. I say we continue to follow these tracks before the weather erases them. If someone is following us, they have had plenty of chances to hurt us. It’s probably just government agents.
Reese: You’re right. This is the M.O. of a shadow team. It’s said that they can be invisible anywhere. They won’t reveal themselves for anything short of life-threatening, if even that. They may be under orders to report back any injuries and deaths, and not intervene for any reason.
Myka: So, we just keep walking, and leave it alone?
Reese: No. Give me the radio.
Myka: Here you go.
Reese: *adjusts the frequency, and makes his own clicks*
Leonard: What did that mean? Did you tell them something?
Reese: I told ‘em to reveal themselves. I seriously doubt they’ll do it, but now they know we know they’re there.
Leonard: What if they’re not there?
Reese: Then no one heard the message, and even if they did, I used a law enforcement code on a law enforcement frequency. So there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Myka: Since I got out of prison, I occasionally flip off my bathroom mirror and tell the U.S. Cybersecurity Agency that I know they’re watching me...just in case they are.
Freewoman 2: *walking up* Hey, what’s the word?
Myka: We’re done trying to root out the possible pursuers. We’re just gonna keep going.
Freewoman 3: What do you want us to do?
Myka: Join us. The more the merrier.
Reese: There’s something you should know about the mission we’re on first, though. Tell me, do any of you believe in aliens?

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Microstory 1939: Follow Travelers

Generated by Canva text-to-image AI software
Reese: How’s everyone doin’? We all have enough water?
Myka: You don’t have to keep checking in with us.
Reese: I do, actually. You’re my responsibility. It’s in the Fugitive Service handbook, in the section for deputized and conscripted civilians, and informants.
Myka: Wait, this kind of situation is in the handbook?
Reese: Absolutely. I had a partner, but a lot of us work alone, and in unfamiliar territory, so we’re encouraged to seek help from anyone available. The Office of Special Investigations has no such policy, which is why we’re keeping you both a secret, but my old boss would have had no problem with this arrangement.
Myka: Oh.
Reese: So the water?
Myka: I’m fine.
Leonard: I’m fine too. I’m starting to get a weird feeling, though.
Reese: Is it a sneaking suspicion that someone has been following us?
Leonard: Yep.
Reese: I’ve been feeling that for a while now. I thought maybe it was just me, but if you’re picking up something too...
Myka: I’m not sensing anyone.
Leonard: There’s no one behind us.
Reese: Not that we can see, at least.
Leonard: There’s nowhere to hide. I can see for miles.
Reese: Yeah, this is a particularly infertile patch of land. I imagine, if we really are following the Ochivari, that’s why they picked this spot, for its remoteness.
Myka: Why would one of them have shown up in Kansas City then?
Leonard: Maybe it was an accident. We have no idea how they navigate.
Reese: *stopping* I really think there’s someone behind us. Ya know, there’s a survival advantage to being able to sense threats, which is why evolution let humans keep that trait. The problem is translating the data into real evidence. *scanning the horizon* Someone is out there, I just can’t prove it.
Myka: Okay, I admit it. I told other members of the bond where we were going.
Leonard: You did what? Why?
Myka: They’ve been watching over us. I didn’t know what we were walking into. I didn’t tell ‘em about the aliens, though, I promise. All I said is that we were looking for more fugitives, like before. I’m sorry, Reese.
Reese: *shaking his head, still watching the horizon* No, it’s not them. They’re over there, by those foothills.
Myka: You knew?
Leonard: I clocked them by the time we got out of Missouri. They’re not particularly sneaky. They built a fire, probably to cook, last night a quarter mile away from us.
Myka: Okay. Now I’m really worried. If you’re sensing someone else...can we set a trap?
Reese: I don’t know how we would. Like we said, it’s so flat. We can’t hide either.
Leonard: But they can. They’ve been following us in secret. Myka. Call your friends.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Microstory 1938: Alien Genitalia

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Leonard: Is this it? Are we here?
Reese: Just about. I don’t wanna damage my truck, so I’m pulling over. We’ll have to walk a little ways, towards that hill.
Myka: There’s something over there, I can already see it. I can’t tell what it is; just that it breaks up the uniformity of the ground. It could just be a rock.
Reese: Where did you get those binoculars?
Myka: I always have them. Birdwatching is a positive outlook that keeps me out of jail.
Reese: What was that? Why did you two just give each other a look?
Myka: What look? There’s no look. Let’s go. We’re burnin’ daylight.
Reese: Hey, man. Take this.
Leonard: You’re giving me a gun?
Reese: I don’t know what we’re gonna find. I would give one to her—
Myka: No, thank you.
Reese: I just can’t be the only one armed. You have had training, right?
Leonard: Of course I do. *checks the gun, then continues forwards*
Myka: *as they’re drawing nearer to the coordinates* Oh, I see what it is now.
Reese: What?
Myka: It’s a body.
Reese: Stay behind us. Leo, keep your head on a swivel for me.
Myka: No pulse. Cold, stiff. He’s been dead for a day at least.
Leonard: I see tracks over here! At least that’s what I think they are. They’re not human, and from no animal that I’ve ever seen, but who knows what kind of fauna you have on this world? You would know better.
Reese: I can track anything on planet Earth...this version of Earth, anyway. No animal I know of makes prints like these. I never got a good look at the Ochivar’s feet, but this is how I would imagine them. They don’t wear shoes?
Leonard: Aliens don’t wear shoes or clothes, because filmmakers don’t usually bother designing genitalia for the puppets or makeup and suits that the actors wear.
Reese: Good point.
Myka: I count four sets of prints. You both get the same?
Leonard: Yeah, but three of ‘em go off in that direction, and the other one doesn’t.
Reese: The fourth couldn’t possibly be this guy, right? Ochivar can’t camouflage themselves as human, right?
Leonard: Not that I’m aware. Plus, he is wearing clothes and shoes. That seems like a weird way to throw us off the scent.
Reese: *looking into the distance, and then the car* All right, we need supplies if we’re gonna walk deeper into the desert. I can go back to my car alone, or you can join me if you would rather not wait here, but no one’s following those tracks until I get back.
Myka: We stick together. Can we all three decide on that now? No matter what happens, we don’t get separated.
Leonard: Yeah, I can agree to that.
Reese: Okay. Then let’s go. Water, food, first aid, more ammo...and a tent.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Microstory 1937: Pinpricks of Glory

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Leonard: *whispering* Hey, I can stand guard now. Go back to sleep.
Myka: *looking at watch* I wasn’t gonna wake you up. I was just gonna stay on and watch over you two, and then rest on the way back, since I can’t drive.
Leonard: You can always count on me to sleep exactly seven hours, give or take fifteen minutes. No matter what, that’s as long as I can go without having to relieve myself.
Myka: A walking clock. Well, anyway, do that real quick, and then just go back to sleep. I’m fine. I like being awake under the stars.
Leonard: *sitting down* Yeah, they don’t have these where I’m from. [...] I don’t mean literally. I’ve just always lived in the city, where there’s so much light pollution, so I don’t usually get this great of a view. I’ve been around the world a bit, but generally just to different cities, and at any rate, I couldn’t appreciate the beauty when I was young.
Myka: Yeah, same here, though I’ve not done much traveling at all. There were plenty of places to rob right near home.
Leonard: Yeah.
Myka: You don’t take issue with my criminal past?
Leonard: A lot of P.O.s get into the business hoping to keep bad guys behind bars. They like the idea of catching their parolees red-handed, instead of waiting until someone else calls in an issue. They get a kick out of it. I always tried to listen to my people, and while I was never a jerk about it, I started to empathize with them even more. I don’t believe in evil; just unproductive or counterproductive choices. It’s not my job to catch bad guys. It’s my job to try to help them figure out a better path. Or it was, anyway. There were others like me, of course, but one thing a lot of them never understood was that the right path isn’t the same for everyone. Like you said yesterday, driving is a trigger for you. For someone else, driving could be the only thing keeping them out. I liked to look for those positive outlets. It was my favorite part.
Myka: So you really got to know them. Tell me about your favorite parolee.
Leonard: It was the guy who told me about all this alien and parallel universe stuff. He felt like an alien himself, and didn’t think there was anything he could do to contribute to society. So I had him work with me. We went on a lot of missions together that weren’t exactly legal, but they were positive, and I think that helped. We were pretty good friends...too good, probably. I never told my bosses or co-workers.
Myka: Was he...more than a friend, then?
Leonard: No, nothing like that. I was married until recently. In fact, I had just signed the divorce papers when I was whisked away to your world. Hmm...I wonder if that had anything to do with it. Whatever, I dunno, tell me about yourself.
Myka: You can probably guess a lot about me. I’m not remarkable. I grew up in an average household with insufferable parents who drove me to a life of crime just so that I could exert some control over my own life, and learn to take care of myself without having to answer to anyone, or worry about other people’s needs.
Leonard: Wow, that’s quite insightful of you.
Myka: *smiling* I’ve had a lot of counseling since I got clean.
Leonard: Tell me more. Who was the first person to try to really help you?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Microstory 1936: Road Trip

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Leonard: I can’t believe they let me out. How did you manage to pull that off?
Reese: Believe it or not, I threatened to quit.
Leonard: You’re that important to them?
Reese: I didn’t think so, but I said it as a last resort, since nothing else was working. I think they hesitate to read people into these kinds of situations, so they would rather you just do it, instead of having to bring in someone new.
Myka: You brought me in.
Reese: They don’t know about you, and we need to keep it that way.
Myka: Sure, as long as we get this straight first. So. You’re telling me that there are a bunch of aliens—
Leonard: Not a bunch. One confirmed. We’re on our way to find out if there are more.
Myka: Right. One alien, maybe more, plus him, who’s human, but also somehow an alien? What are the odds?
Leonard: I’m not from another planet, I’m just from another universe; another version of Earth. We have a different history, different sociopolitics—particularly law—and I believe minor anatomical or physiological differences.
Reese: Really? I didn’t know that.
Leonard: The scientists didn’t probe me, but one of my parolees told me about it. He never sat me down to warn me about anything. We just spent a lot of time together, and he would tell me stories. I didn’t believe him until we started getting into messes together, but I didn’t really believe until I came here. This is a very different world from mine. Nothing major, but the subtle differences add up to something undeniable.
Myka: Oh. But the other alien is an alien? What does it look like?
Reese: It looks like a dragonfly, it sounds like a cricket, and it acts like a person. It talks normal. If you heard it talking with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know the difference.
Leonard: So there was a microphone hidden somewhere in our basement jail.
Reese: Yeah, that’s half the reason why they put you together, to get more information. They played a little of your conversation for me. I’m sorry, I tried to get to you first.
Leonard: Nah, man, I get it. But if you didn’t hear all of the audio, then there’s something else you should know. Have you heard of cicadas? Do you have those here?
Myka: Yeah, we do.
Leonard: Well, the Ochivari life cycle is reminiscent of theirs. They live underground for years at a time, sometimes decades. That I didn’t know before.
Reese: We’ll have to remember that. We may be able to use that against them.
Myka: *after a lull in the conversation* Hey, I hope you didn’t bring me along to help you drive there and back. I shouldn’t be behind the wheel. It’s a trigger for me.
Reese: Yeah, I know. You’re not here for that. We will need your help keeping watch, though. One of you two will be awake for three hours while the other and I sleep. I’ll take the four-hour middle shift, because it’s harder to wake up, then try to go back to sleep.
Myka: That’s stupid. I’ll do that, since you two need to do your jobs.
Leonard: Well, we’ll talk more about it tonight.
Myka: Yeah, we will. One thing you’ll learn about me is that I always win in a fight.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 14, 2405

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Operating the Phoenix without an AI was difficult. It required the constant presence of a human intelligence, or it could be programmed to park somewhere, and wait until the team returned to the timestream a year later. They decided to leave it on an asteroid that used to orbit the planet of Violkomin as a minimoon. At one point, there was one universe, and everything in that universe belonged to its creator, Hogarth Pudeyonavic. She literally built her own brane, which was attached to Salmonverse. She designed it to her own specifications, making it apparently stronger and better than any universe that could form naturally. Unlike the natural ones, though, it was forever linked to their own, which allowed it to function on the same timeline. This made it easier to avoid paradoxes when traveling back and forth. That didn’t mean doing so would be simple or unregulated. That wasn’t what it was meant for. This was to be a sanctuary to protect against multiversal threats, like the Maramon, and the Ochivari. There was one way in, and one way out, and both sides of the border would need to be guarded to protect from these dangerous external forces.
After Dalton Hawke sent everyone away using his magic staff, Olimpia Sangster ended up in Hogarth’s universe, but not quite all the way in. She was trapped in an interstitial paradimensional space, which was barely large enough to accommodate her. Nanofissures allowed air molecules to pass freely from regular space, so that she didn’t suffocate while she was in there. Meanwhile, a few microfissures, which were smaller than a millimeter, allowed soundwaves to pass through one-way, which was just enough for her to communicate with Hogarth and Ramses. Either by Dalton’s intention, or some freak fluke of physics, Olimpia ended up tearing the whole universe in half, spreading the dimensional barrier out so that it ran through the middle, keeping the two halves separate from each other. One side was left with the physical laws that Hogarth had decided upon for her new haven. The other half was what they had been calling the Sixth Key this whole time, and was waiting for Kyra Torosia to transfer every inhabited celestial and subcelestial body in the main sequence, the Parallel, the Third Rail, the Fourth Quadrant, and the Fifth Division during the Reconvergence It wasn’t waiting very long, though. All of this happened on the same day.
Also on this day, Ellie Underhill downloaded every single consciousness in the afterlife simulation to new organic substrates in the new universe. They awoke in an absolutely gigantic lake on Violkomin that was about three times the size of the Caspian Sea. Upon arrival, the formerly dead experienced what was described as a unifying sense of profound calmness. Ellie was still coordinating new arrangements for her people, and the process would likely take decades, suggesting that she wouldn’t find herself at the Shortlist meeting regarding the Edge with Leona until her personal future. Or she left and returned in the blink of an eye. Lowell Benton was helping with this, but was also recently responsible for helping Hogarth liaise with representatives in the Sixth Key.
This was all very complicated and sounded incredibly overwhelming, but that sense of calmness that had washed over everyone in Lake Underhill had not completely dissipated, so they were not being uncooperative during this difficult period of transition. They also were not without help. The status levels from the simulation were impossible to maintain with no more prison, nor access limitations, but those in the higher ranks intuitively found themselves in leadership positions, especially the counselors class. They were helping keep everyone on track, and ready to begin their new lives on their new worlds.
Lowell was busy with his stuff for the last couple of years, but he promised to meet with the team again this year. He was going to try to authorize a return trip to the real main sequence, but Leona was working on a new plan in her head. For now, they were waiting in the hotel ballroom on the crest of Mount Hilde, which was currently the only point where the two halves of the universe met. If they were to open those doors on the other side of the room, they would cross the barrier. But they weren’t allowed.
“What are we gonna do when we get back?” Angela asked. “Any ideas?”
“That’s a good question,” Mateo noted.
Indeed. While it had come up often in the past, they never really had to answer it, because someone, or something, had always swooped in and forced their hands. Was that chapter in their lives finally over? Were they finally in control of their destiny? “We have to leave the Phoenix behind,” Leona decided.
“What?” Mateo questioned. “We just got it.”
Leona continued to stare straight forward. “Yeah, and now we have to give it away. Don’t worry, we won’t be completely out of luck.”
“But—” Marie tried to say before Lowell came in.
“Sorry about the wait, folks. Ellie’s coming too, but until then, how can I help?”
“We wanted to go home,” Mateo said. He caught his wife’s eye. She was giving him a look. “, we’re not. We’ someone our ship?”
Leona stood up, and sighed. “We may want it back when you’re done with it. In the meantime, we can live in one of the three shuttles. It doesn’t have an FTL drive, but it has a reframe engine, and more than enough room for all of us.”
“Okay, but what do we need the big ship for?” Lowell questioned. “I don’t know how to fly.”
“Ellie does,” Leona revealed. “Right now, you have 120 billion people on your welcome planet, right? They all need homes, and the biggest hurdle to accomplishing that is transportation.” She stepped over toward the window, and regarded the docked Phoenix. “It doesn’t look it, but that thing can hold 10,000 people. That’s not enough to move everyone right away, but it should help. Unless Hogarth has helped with alternatives, such as her own fleet of ships, or perhaps a muster beacon?”
“I don’t know what that second thing is,,” Lowell answered.
“I know it’s not much—”
“It’s more than we have now.” Ellie has walked into the room from the dimensional doors. “What brought this on?”
Leona looked back at her team, still sitting on the couches and chairs. “We prefer a smaller ship. I was excited when Ishida gave that to us, but it’s not practical.”
“The FTL engine, though,” Ellie pointed out. “Won’t you miss it? You haven’t even used it, have you?”
“We’ve lived through worse,” Leona replied.
They discussed some more ideas and details, and then everyone teleported to the bridge of the Phoenix, where a tour began. There was still a lot that the team didn’t know about it anyway, and they wanted to see it all too. She showed them the crew cabins above and behind the bridge, the engineering section below, and the transition space in the next section. Right behind that were the passenger access points, which opened to several dozen separate Ubiña pocket dimensions. That was how 10,000 people could live aboard at the same time, despite not having enough space in normal space. More than that could literally be on board simultaneously, but it would not be comfortable, and there would not be any privacy, because the majority of the vessel was taken up by the last two major components, which were the FTL engine, and the cargo hold. Though, thinking on it now, if the interstellar trips they were planning to take weren’t very long, keeping thousands of the passengers in cargo would probably be okay.
“And here are the shuttles,” Leona said near the end of the tour. “There’s enough seating for twenty-four people, however...” She ushered everyone into one of them, and closed the hatch behind them. Then she punched in a code, and reopened the hatch. “...each comes equipped with its own pocket dimension to give it even more room.” They were no longer looking at the shuttle bay, but an average-sized suburban yard with grass, but no other plant life yet, and no house.
“Hm. Yeah, I think we can work with this,” Olimpia determined. “I can see it now. What’s this one called?”
Leona smirked. “The Angela.”
The human Angela had not expected to hear her name. “What? Why?”
“It’s this whole thing. It’s not named after you, though. We can take one of the others, if you would prefer,” Leona promised. “There’s also the Dante, and the Bernice.”
“Dante would be great,” Angela replied. “Kind of better matches with the fire theme that I picture whenever anyone brings up the Phoenix proper.”
“There’s an issue,” Ellie began. “As of now, those doors in the Crest Hotel are the only way from the Sixth Key to the other universe, which has yet to be named. We can’t get the ship over there.”
“That’s the final stop,” Leona said with a smile. She reached out her hands. “If you’ll teleport us, I’ll navigate to the heart of the Phoenix.” They took hands, and jumped to the vault together, where Leona showed everyone the same thing that Ishida had shown her before.
Before Ellie finished closing up the case, they all put on vacuum suits, so they would be able to survive the unforgiving cold of outer space. Then they jumped back to the ballroom. Leona had already commanded the Dante to eject itself, so it wouldn’t be taken into the box along with everything else. It was currently piloting itself to one of the smaller spacedocks.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Ellie said appreciatively.
“Just help those people” Leona requested. “We would help too, but we’re only here for a day at a time anyway. We have to find a way to use that to our advantage.”
“You’ll need this.” It was Ramses again, carrying the kettlebell drive that he had taken from them a year ago. It turns out I didn’t need it, but I’m glad I had it.”
“Are you back?” Mateo asked.
“Sorry, not yet. That thing was just dead weight. Soon, though. Soon,” he repeated. “I think next year.”
“Should we stay in the area for you, errr...?” Marie trailed off.
“I’ll find ya.” Ramses disappeared for the upteenth time.
“All right. In that case...” Mateo said. “What now?”
Olimpia’s Cassidy cuff started to beep. “It’s a message.” She opened it.
Hello? Is anyone there? This is Xerian Oyana of the Former Fifth Division. I’m looking for Team Matic. We need your help. I have your little ship. How does it work?

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Extremus: Year 49

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Tinaya Leithe is a tertiary school student, on the Captain’s track, which means that she is specializing in ship administration. As she is part of an elite group of preselected potential future captains, she has gained access to a number of sections and systems that the average Extremus passenger does not. As a brilliant technical specialist, she has granted herself access to even more, allowing her to see the truth regarding certain vessel secrets which only the highest of executive crewmembers know. It’s been a long time since she’s exercised such abilities, though, at the request of her aunt and former Captain, Kaiora Leithe. That is about to change. Even after all this time being indoctrinated into crew mentality, she and her classmates have not yet met the new captain. They are today, and she needs information on him.
The closest thing Tinaya has to a best friend, Lataran Keen is with her. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”
“We are not doing anything,” Tinaya contends. “You’re just watching.”
“That’s called an accessory,” Lataran argues.
“I’m not going to get caught. I know what I’m doing.”
“It’s sure taking you long enough.”
“That’s part of it. If I just pushed my way into the personnel files, they would be able to trace me. If I don’t want them to even know that I accessed these, I have to go the long way around.”
“What do you even want to know about the new captain?”
“I don’t know what we’re gonna find. I’m looking for skeletons, ticks, weird sexual proclivities.”
“That last one is not going to be in his file.”
“It’ll be in his medical file.”
“Naya, are you hoping to get him dismissed from his position?”
“No, not unless there’s something to be found.”
“Which there won’t be. There is nothing you can read in there that no one else knows about. Someone put it in there in the first place, and yet he was still selected as Captain. If you’re looking for dirt, you’re wasting your time.”
Tinaya exhales sharply, and stops what she’s doing for a second. “My aunt selected Trudie Haynes to succeed her as the leader of this ship. The council went against her. I wanna know why.”
“There’s a flaw in your plan.”
“How do you figure?” Tinaya questions.
“If you think that Tamm got the job for...untoward reasons, then you’ll be hacking into the wrong file. If it’s anything at all, it will probably have something to do with what he knows about someone else.”
She stops again. “You’re right.” She waits for a moment, then gets back to work, but shifts gears. “I need to retrieve everyone’s files. That will take me a little longer.”
“The meet-and-greet starts in thirty minutes. You have to be there, or you won’t become captain when the next shift comes up.”
“This stupid event is not a requirement.”
“No, but if you feel the council operates with bias, then they would probably not be above holding your absence from this one stupid thing against you.”
Tinaya stops yet again. “You’re right. You’re too logical for your own good.” She closes out all of the windows, and erases all evidence that she so much as attempted to break into any highly restricted files. “That’s why you’re number seven.”
Lataran shrugs. “Better than eight. Better than eleven.”
“Not as good as number one.”
“You’re not number one.”
Now Tinaya shrugs. “Li and I have been leapfrogging each other since we graduated from pre-cap. I’ll find a way to get ahead of him on the leaderboard.”
Lataran takes a deep breath. “This is good. You should probably shower and change anyway. I definitely need to.”
Tinaya pulls her collar away from her neck, and smells it. “I think it’s fine.”
Lataran stares at her.
But you’re the logic queen.”
“That’s right; the only position higher than Captain around here.”
Tinaya does as she was told when Lataran leaves to do the same for herself. One of the benefits of being seriously considered for the job of Captain is having one’s own cabin, which would usually not be assigned until a regular student begins their licensure at age nineteen. Not only that, but these are some of the nicest cabins on the ship, akin to what some of them will have once it’s time to join the executive crew. There are a total of eleven of them in their class. One or two may wash out in the next two years before college begins, but the likelier outcome is failing out of the college program early on, or not exactly failing out, but being removed from the council’s internal and secret list of serious candidates. It’s impossible to know for sure who is on that list, but it’s pretty easy to know if you’re off of it, based on some dark mark on your record.
It’s also possible to be on the short list without ever going through the program. Captain Soto Tamm, for instance, didn’t know anything about how to captain the ship, and he still made it because the captain’s track is guarantee of nothing. Still, it’s weird, and suspicious that they chose someone with no relevant education, and also against the previous captain’s wishes. That’s why Tinaya wants to find out what’s up with him. Why would they do this? What is so damn special about him? Maybe nothing. The few who have sat in that seat since the Extremus launched 48 years ago have been plagued by scandal and intrigue in a way that no one thought plausible. This journey was supposed to be a smooth and uncontroversial one, but it has turned into a mess. Maybe that’s why.
Lataran returns when it’s time to go to the little dumb party. She tilts her head. “That dress looks familiar.”
Tinaya smooths it out from her stomach, down her thighs as she’s looking at herself again in the mirror. “It was my grandmother’s.”
She frowns kindly. “That’s sweet.”
The two of them head down the corridors. Even with all of their exceptional privileges, they’re still not afforded teleportation rights. They may never, as the rules are pretty strict these days, and have been for a while. Theirs is not the only class scheduled to meet the new captain. Every student on the captain’s track from age fourteen to twenty has been invited, however almost none of them is here yet. In fact, a quick headcount shows maybe one from each of the other classes, yet everyone from Tinaya and Lataran’s year. What the hell is happening? “Hey, where is everyone?” she asks a boy whose name she can’t remember. He’s two years ahead of her. “They’re protesting.”
“Protesting what?”
“The captain,” he says as if it’s obvious.
“I didn’t know that we were doing that.”
“We are not. Besides the second years, everyone here is either at the top of their respective leaderboards, or they’re close, and don’t want to risk losing the chance to rise. Everyone else said screw it.”
“Why were we not informed?” Lataran asks him.
The boy looks at her, then eyes Tinaya. “Because of her. As you know, each class is ranked separately, but that’s only officially. Unofficially, she’s number one, and she always will be, unless she dies, or something. The lesser number ones are here, because we’re the only ones with any semblance of a chance of being picked for fourth shift.”
“It’ll be the fifth shift,” Tinaya reasons.
“Not everyone counts Olindse Belo.”
“I do. Maybe that’s why I’m number one on this unofficial list.”
“You’re number one, because you’re a legacy, and because there are rumors of people on board who know about the future.”
“You shouldn’t believe rumors. Everyone on this track should want it, and should be proving that every day, in every way,” Tinaya argues.
“Hey, man, you’re preaching to the choir. I’m here, ain’t I?”
“So really, they’re protesting her, and our whole class?” Lataran presses.
“Oh, no. It’s definitely about Soto Tamm. We didn’t so much as decide not to tell you all, as we didn’t think you would be interested. We’re not of the right ages.”
Tinaya frowns and regards the pathetic crowd. Captain Tamm has not arrived yet—probably hoping to make a grand entrance—so the few kids are milling about, nibbling on snacks, and sipping on drinks. “You’re not wrong. I have to be here. Honestly, one of us should be the next captain. If we’re protesting because they selected out of pool, all the protestors are doing is increasing the chances that the council will feel compelled to do the same thing again next time.”
“Exactly,” the boy agrees. “So it’s decided. No one here today gives up.”
There he is. It’s Captain Soto Tamm. He walks in with that political smile, immediately starting to shake people’s hands as he passes by them. Unlike someone who is greatly admired, the kids aren’t reaching out for him, though. He’s initiating all of the greetings. Tinaya doesn’t like him mostly because he wasn’t Aunt Kaiora’s pick, but that’s mostly a personal reason. Thinking on it now, she really can’t be against the choice to appoint an out-of-the-box candidate on principle. None of the prior candidates was perfect on paper, and they all got to where they ended up for the unusual decisions they had made. As a dumb kid, she has obviously not been involved in current ship management, but from the outside, he seems like a decent guy, and a fine captain. At least, he hasn’t given them any real reason to distrust him. Perhaps he will as time goes on. This is just his first year.
He continues to greet the kids, and talk with each one of them personally, expertly ignoring how few of them actually chose to show up. He conspicuously ignores Tinaya completely, though. That tells everyone everything they need to know about his thoughts and intentions. She will be the next captain, and he’s going to make sure of it.