Saturday, September 30, 2023

Extremus: Year 59

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
It’s happening. Attic Forest is this close to becoming a real thing. It has been a grueling year and a half, but Tinaya and Lilian managed to amass enough support to get approval to build it. The Resource Allocation Authority was not easy on them, and put up every roadblock they could come up with. The two of them were required to include in their proposal every little detail, right down to every individual plant in its individual location, to the size of the screws that would be used for the ventilation grate that was in the portside corner with the stern. Even then, they weren’t allowed to just go do it unless they proved that the people of the ship actually wanted it. Well, it wasn’t the kind of thing that could be left to a popular vote. The level of support they were receiving for it was so subjective, and at the mercy of other people’s interpretation. They did interviews for the newspaper, and went on talk shows. Tinaya was more in charge of all that, since Lilian didn’t like the attention, but that was okay, because that was how they sold the story. Lilian was the genius behind the design. Tinaya was the face. They made it work.
Not everyone is as jazzed about this as they are, of course, but there are no unambiguous detractors. Captain Tamm has made a point of staying out of it. He claims that this is a matter for the civilians, and the civilian government, but that’s just political posturing. It’s a waste of his political energy too. He still lives on this ship, and could support it on a personal level. He’s trying to play both sides, even though there aren’t really two sides to the issue. There’s little opposition to it; mostly people who don’t care, or don’t think it’s necessary. It’s ridiculous, really, because he’s guaranteed the captaincy for the duration of his shift, unless he does something to lose the faith of the crew, government, or passengers. It’s not like he should be worried about reëlection. It’s ‘cause he’s an idiot. There’s no better way to describe it.
“Thank you, and welcome back. I’m your host, Zorion Azarola, and Over the Desk.” This is one of those talk shows now. Zorion Azarola is known for his stoic and serious demeanor while he lobs his guests softball questions. Exactly what his gimmick is here, no one really understands. Maybe he thinks he hits harder than he actually does, or maybe it’s all one big joke. Either way, this is their final unofficial hurdle before the  vote. Once it passes, construction can begin on the forest, and tonight is their last chance to convince the committee. That’s why Lilian is here.
Unlike other shows of this type, the view never switches to different angles, and the blocking is very simple. That’s partially because there is no crew to speak of. The apparent idea is to be raw and sincere. The camera is on a tripod, pointing straight forward from the edge of the desk. Zorion is on one side, and up to two guests can sit at his opposite. It’s been dressed up like an office, but the books on the shelves are fake, and the knick knacks scattered about likely hold no sentimental value to Zorion. He must think of himself as the college advisor type, and the guests as his students, who he’s trying to help reach their potential. Tinaya has decided to play into it. Lilian has decided to sit there like a block of ice. She really struggles with these things.
“Captain Leithe,” he begins. “Can I call you Captain Leithe?”
This would normally be the time where she replies with an absolutely not, and a little bit of attitude, but she has to look like a saint here; a saint who can play ball. Everyone is amazing, and all of the things they say are good, and not stupid. So what would be the most polite way to word this? “It is an inaccurate, and inappropriate, title at this time. Captain Tamm is the Captain. I am a Junior Forest Guide.” That’s a new title that they came up with, which won’t be entirely accurate either until there’s an actual forest through which to guide visitors, but it’s fine.
“All right, Guide Leithe. How excited are you that this measure is about to pass?”
“I’m very excited to see this project come to fruition. It has been a long road to get here, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. And that’s what I am, a part. If I owned the whole ship, I could do whatever I wanted, but we’re all living here, and none of this would be possible if the people didn’t want it. It’s important to note that the measure has not quite passed yet. The committee is yet to vote. We’re confident in the outcome, but whatever it is, we will respect their decision, because we trust their judgment.”
“Yes, the...” Zorion stops to check his notes, or at least pretend that he is. “The Committee for Special Projects. That’s a new one, right?”
“Yes, it’s composed of government leaders, respected community leaders, and a few crewmembers. I was not the least bit involved in creating it. Obviously, it would be a conflict of interest for me. So if you have any further questions regarding the matter, I’m afraid you’ll have to call some else into your office.” She said it with a smile to keep it light. But really, she’s annoyed, because people do ask her a lot of questions about the committee, as if she’s some expert on them just because she and Lilian are the ones whose request triggered its creation. What she just told Zorion is the result of her cursory research into the subject, and she refuses to compound it with further information. It’s not her job to know, or care.”
“Fair enough,” he replies with a polite smile as well, and a mildly defensive hand gesture. He flips through his notecards, which are made of paper. Paper is made out of the wood of trees. It’s this whole process that Extremusians have never used, but recent events have changed things. Out here in the void, stars are few and far between. They do exist. Despite what some believe, intergalactic voids are not totally empty. There are probably about as many celestial objects in them as there are within the boundaries of galaxies. It’s just that the voids are so much more vast, these objects are so spread out, and difficult to find. This is why Captain Halan Yenant knew that changing course into the void was not damning his descendants to the curse of never finding a home. It’s out here, somewhere; most people still believe that. But still, it’s impossible to know for sure, especially since—even before they started heading into the void—they had not found any habitable planets along their journey. This all changed last year.
In order to maintain the ship and its systems, the engineers send automated probes to star systems as they pass by them. Since Extremus literally never stops, the only way to make use of the data and resources found in these systems is to send the probes into the past, so that they’re actually waiting for them a minute or two after departing. They don’t have to do this all the time. In fact, the original designers tried to plan a trip that would require no side missions at all. But it was necessary to come up with a solution to a problem once, and now that they know they can do it, resources are being taken for granted, forcing them to continue doing it every once in a while. Now they send probes all the time, but usually for different purposes. The majority of them are simply cataloging what they’ve found. The discovery of a world with plantlife was the biggest shocker since Admiral Olindse Belo’s disappearance a quarter century ago.
Tinaya doesn’t have all the details, because she is not yet part of the group of people making decisions about this sort of thing, but the public was made aware of the discovery when it happened. And it was also shown samples of the plants they found, which an entirely different department from Lilian’s is handling. One thing they’ve done with their samples is manufacture paper. It’s a luxury that requires an extremely high contribution score to earn. Hosting a broadcast series is one of those things that can keep your score high enough for such luxuries, though, which explains why Zorion is making use of his stash of physical paper. Obviously Tinaya couldn’t care less about paper, but she’s interested in a day when the plants they found on that planet might one day become part of hers and Lilian’s forest. That would make the accomplishment all the sweeter.
He finishes flipping through the notecards. “Sorry about that, I’ve realized that a lot of the questions I was planning to ask you have already been answered.” He pauses for a moment. “Or at least they’ve been asked.”
Oh, no. Where is this going? He’s not wrong. She’s answered the same questions in these interviews multiple times, and it’s become annoying for her, but he’s the first interviewer to express any concern over it. How can she stop him from asking whatever he thinks he should ask her? “I suppose...” She trails off, but makes it clear that she’s not finished with her thought. She just needs to find the words. “It’s just...what’s happening here is quite simple. Parks and forests promote a healthy and satisfying life. All studies from Earth, its neighboring orbitals, and its colonies in the stellar neighborhood, have proven time and time again that stone, metal, and metamaterials just. Don’t. Cut it. Life wants to be around other life. It is a biological imperative, and regardless of what we have been forced to endure in our history, on Ansutah, in the cylinders, and yes, even on Extremus...we are still human. All life naturally evolved to thrive on Earth. Except for those aliens plants we found, I guess...and the ones on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. Earth is positively brimming with life. And that second exception only proves the point, because it’s just another example of how it works. Life craves life.
“It’s not so much that Lilian and I want this project to go through. It’s that the Extremusians need it. You will be so happy when you get to go there for the first time. Your brain will release chemicals that will make your heart and soul feel good. You’ll feel human again, and that may be hard to beehive now, because you don’t know you’re missing yet. But it will be there. Your life will improve, I promise you that. Everyone who lives on this ship will be that much happier for it...until we find our Promised Land on our ultimate destination. We’re not on our way to find some rock in the middle of nowhere, are we? Who needs that? We can find that anywhere. Who gives a shit how far from Gatewood we’ve flown? We’ve always been looking for the forest. We’ve always been looking for life. All we’re doing is...letting those of us who will not be alive to see the Extremus planet get just a small taste of what our descendants will know and love.” Tinaya turns to face the camera, which Zorion discourages, but this is too important. “For the members of the committee who are watching this, there is only one choice here. If Extremus doesn’t get its forest, it will die. I’m not just talking about contribution scores. Our success as a people; our mission...depends on it. If you don’t believe me, just go to the park that we do have. Multiply the feeling you get by a thousand.”
“Wow,” Zorion said. “Well said, Junior Forest Guide Leithe.”
“She’s a Senior Forest Guide, Mr. Azarola,” Lilian said after being silent this entire time.”
“Well.” He takes a breath. “I believe this is a good time for a break. We’ll return with our next guest soon.” With a smile, he lifts his remote, and switches off the camera.
The next day, the vote passes. Project Attic Forest is a go.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Microstory 1985: New Direction

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Henley: O.
Ophelia: Yeah, is everything okay?
Henley: No, the others are getting antsy.
Ophelia: All we can do is wait. No one knows we’re here. I mean, of course the others do, but no one we need to be worried about.
Henley: They’re not worried about being discovered. But we all know that we can’t stay here forever. You have a family to get back to, don’t you?
Ophelia: Yes. And the only way I can keep them safe right now is to stay away from them. I hope you’re not thinking of contacting your family.
Henley: Of course not, but what’s going to happen afterwards? Parsons and the others are trying to fix this, but what if it can’t be fixed?
Ophelia: I don’t know. No one knows. That’s how life works.
Henley: Can you talk to them?
Ophelia: Are they all in that big room we’ve been eating out of?
Henley: Yeah, I think they’re expecting you.
Ophelia: Very well. *walks down to the room* Hello, everyone.
*they start to inundate her with questions and complaints*
Henley: All right, settle down. You can’t talk all at once.
Ophelia: Thank you. I have something to say. I know that we’re all sort of freaking out right now, but that’s not going to help. We have each been through worse. That’s how we ended up here. We’re doing something that has never been done before. We’re preparing for an alien invasion, and no matter what happens after the dust settles, that will always be true. When these damn locusts show up en masse, the world will see what we’ve seen, and they will know that you saw them first. They will learn how you fought against them, despite having no legal or moral obligation to. You could have gone home, and hidden in your bathtubs. You could have just completely ignored the risk. But you stood at the frontlines, and I commend you for that. One day, the history books will too. Now, by raising your hands, does anyone have any specific questions about what we should do, or what we can do about our situation? Yes, Yanna.
Yanna: When will we receive any news? Have you planned a call with Agent Parsons, or something? I think what’s causing the anxiety is not having any sort of timetable.
Ophelia: We have each other’s burner phone numbers. He’ll contact us when there’s an update worthy of our attention. It will come soon. We came up with a few code words in case he finds himself in mixed company. It’s best if you don’t know any more than that.
Reese: *steps in from the hallway* None of that will be necessary anyway.
Henley: Agent Parsons. Or should I call you Subdirector Parsons?
Reese: Neither. *pauses for dramatic effect* I’ve just been in meeting after meeting after meeting. It was all very boring, but your jobs are waiting for you when you’re ready to come back. I’m not the subdirector, but a full director. The Department of Exogenic Affairs is being spun out into its own full department. We’re no longer working under Special Investigations, but the executive branch of government. I answer directly to the National Commander. You can all relax. Everything’s gonna be okay.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Microstory 1984: Pancakes Come First

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Myka: Are we sure about this?
Reese: No, but everyone else is safe at the third location, and this is the best chance we have to getting our jobs back. I want to work with Director Washington, but we have to make sure that we can trust her.
Myka: Anaïs doesn’t think she’s a mole.
Reese: Even if she isn’t, she may lock us all up just because we ran. This is the best test I can come up with. Well...Anaïs came up with it, but I approved it, so the responsibility falls upon my shoulders. Of course, she could pass with flying colors, and then screw us over later, so maybe none of this matters.
Leonard: Today cannot be understood before tomorrow becomes yesterday.
Myka: Did you come up with that?
Leonard: It’s from a poet from my world.
Myka: *sighing after a pause* Why didn’t we give the Director the third location, and keep everyone safe here. Isn’t Micro upset about this place possibly being burned.
Micro: *walking up* This is a great lair. She’ll believe it’s where we’ve been hiding, because we have. I don’t mind it being burned. I have more copies of this in other universes. Don’t you worry your pretty little self about me.
Reese: You don’t have to be here, though. You can hide with the others.
Micro: Like she’d believe you could do any of this without me. *starts to step away*
Reese: Hey, wait. How are your sensors? Are you detecting any strike team?
Micro: A-okay, boss. We’re clear. Balls to the wall. Once more, unto the breach. That’s poetry from my world. [...] She’s here, doe.
*after a few moments, the door opens, and Director Washington comes in alone*
Reese: *clearing his throat* Madam Director, you found it.
Director Washington: It wasn’t that hard. I didn’t start out in an office, you know.
Reese: Of course, sir. Thank you for coming. Juice? Tea? Pastries?
Washington: Is this Sunday brunch, or did you wanna discuss business?
Reese: I want us to come back together.
Washington: That’s what I want too, Subdirector Parsons. You’re the ones who left. *looking around* Where is everyone else anyway?
Reese: Valentine Duval is working security. Everyone else is presently...out.
Washington: *thinking about it* This was a test. You only gave me your location to see what I would do with this information? You thought I might attack?
Micro: *coming back into the main area* Yeah, you came alone. What’s with that? Don’t you have your own bodyguards?
Washington: Like I was just saying, I was not always an administrator. I can look after myself. Now. Subdirector Parsons—
Reese: Am I still a subdirector? Am I anything to the government but a fugitive?
Washington: Yes, Subdirector Parsons. I know that we are in the midst of corruption issues, and I know that you are not one of these corrupted people. I would be glad to discuss reintegration, but must tell me where the others are.
Micro: No, first...pancakes.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Microstory 1983: The Choice of Risk

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Reese: How are things going at headquarters?
Anaïs: They’re fine.
Reese: Do you need us to pull you out? Just say the word. Don’t feel obligated.
Anaïs: I’m not just being a big brave girl, Agent. I really am fine. I still feel safe there.
Reese: Okay. So what’s the update?
Anaïs: Washington is finished with her interrogations. She spoke with everyone, and determined that there aren’t any other moles in the department.
Reese: Well...who interrogated Director Washington?
Anaïs: I know that that’s what we’ve been worried about, but I think she cleared her own name in the process. She could have found a mole, and thrown them under the bus, which would have thrown suspicion off of herself. It wouldn’t even have to be real.
Reese: So the fact that she isn’t outwardly doing anything to try to cover her tracks is telling you that she doesn’t have any tracks to cover? I’m sorry, that’s a weak argument. She may just feel comfortable enough in her position.
Anaïs: True, but I’m not the only one working on the problem, am I? Tell me, what has Micro uncovered during her external investigation.
Reese: *nods* Washington does seem clean. We’ve found no indication that she’s making more money than she earns at the office. She’s not making any unusual phone calls. Evidently she visited the original training facility, and picked Sergeant Sachs out after watching him spar, and reading his file. They didn’t know each other before.
Anaïs: Parsons, we don’t have much reason not to trust her. I think she was duped just as much as we were. She really wants to figure this out, and she’s working really hard to do that. I really think she’s all right. She did have a sour word to say about any of you.
Reese: Are you saying that we should try to come back in?
Anaïs: *stepping away to pace a little* It may not be yet time for that, but I do have another test we could try.
Reese: What would that be?
Anaïs: *spins back around* You’re not going to like it.
Reese: Is it dangerous?
Anaïs: No, I wouldn’t say that. In fact, you might be okay with it. If it goes poorly, at least we’ll know that I’m wrong, and she’s a traitor, but if it goes well...
Reese: Yeah...?
Anaïs: If it goes well, Washington might be the one who ends up not too happy.
Reese: All right. Spit it out.
Anaïs: I can go back to her, say that I’ve been looking for you—
Reese: No, that is dangerous.
Anaïs: I’m not even done explaining it.
Reese: It doesn’t matter. If you trust her, then either you and I should stop talking, and you’ll go back there fulltime, or we’ll pull you out and protect you, but you’re not going to put yourself at such risk. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.
Anaïs: And that would be my choice. It’s a good plan, and I’m at less risk than you think. Why don’t you just wait until you hear the rest of it, okay?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Microstory 1982: Accusations

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Flynn: The Director has pulled up. What do you think she wants to talk to us about?
Celandine: She’s looking for the mole. She’ll be interrogating us for information.
Anaïs: Unless she’s a mole too, in which case the whole thing will be a charade. She may even be intending to frame one of us for it, so she stays in the shadows.
Flynn: You don’t really think she’s a traitor, do you?
Anaïs: Sachs is, and she chose him to join our tack team.
Celandine: That’s proof of nothing. Careful where you throw your accusations.
Anaïs: Why, because they’ll come flying back at me?
Celandine: Maybe.
Flynn: Easy, ladies. We’re all on the same side. Now, I don’t know if the Director is dirty, just like I don’t know if I can trust all these new agents around us. I felt so much more comfortable around the freepersons than I ever thought I would. But the one thing I do know is that I’ve been working with you two for months, and you’re definitely clean. Can we all at least just agree on that, and stick together?
Anaïs: I can.
Celandine: I can too. You’re right, Flynn. *sighs* She’s here. Get ready.
Director Washington: *walking up* Agent Robles, please gather the troops. I would like to address the group as a whole. I do not like repeating myself.
Celandine: Apologies, sir, I’m not in charge here.
*Washington looks over at Investigator Blass*
Blass: It’s true, sir. Herzog made a declaration after the others...after the exodus.
Washington: Investigator Blass, always with the politically safe verbiage. Very well. Go find him, and relay the order. In the meantime, Agent Robles, do you have tea?
*later, in the bullpen, with everyone in the department*
Washington: Last week, we unmasked a traitor in our ranks. Sergeant Sachs was a dedicated soldier, a patriot, and a good man. How he lost his way is something that I have assigned a team to figure out. This small group behind me is here to do the same with the rest of you. I’m going to be honest with you, we don’t know if he was working alone. He could have been a lone zealot, or there are others in your ranks. Or there are others, but they’ve been assigned to other departments. We truly do not know. If you are a mole, this may make you feel safe, comfortable. But I assure you that I will use every tool in my box to root out the cancer in the government, be it one of you, or even the National Commander himself. The aliens are here, and the last thing we need is to be fighting amongst ourselves when they make their next moves. We have to be ready, and this department was originally formed to do that. I’m saddened that it has disintegrated so epically quickly. In the next coming days, you will be questioned. Your backgrounds will be rechecked, and rechecked, and then re-rechecked. Your associates will be investigated, and your history will be traced. In the meantime, you will continue your training here, under the leadership of Agent Robles here. Who is Agent Herzog?
Herzog: Right here, sir. I took the initiative when the defectors...defected.
Washington: I heard. You’re fired, and you’ll be the first in the hot seat. No one does anything without my orders. Does everyone else at least understand that?

Monday, September 25, 2023

Microstory 1981: Defenses

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Leonard: Oh. I just came down here to shore up our defenses.
Myka: Same. I wanna make sure we know our exits. This is an interesting tunnel.
Leonard: Yeah, it is. Must have a purpose. Well, I’ll go find something else to do.
Myka: Are you avoiding me?
Leonard: Of course not. Why would I do that?
Myka: Well, the last time we spoke, you were leaving on your hush-hush mission—
Leonard: I was compelled not to tell you what we were doing. I didn’t even know much about it myself. We didn’t learn the details until we arrived, and even then there was a lot of improvisation involved.
Myka: I’m not mad at you for keeping it secret. I’m just saying...we were growing closer, and since you’ve been back, I feel like you’re a different person.
Leonard: I guess I kind of am different. I’ve been in situations like that before, but not quite like it. I’ve never been rogue. This is all very strange to me.
Myka: I’m fascinated by you, Leonard, and I want to know what you mean by that.
Leonard: What I mean by it being strange?
Myka: What you mean that you’ve been in such situations. You were a parole officer, but it sounds like you were so much more than that. You’ve told me that you’ve been on missions before, which is not in the job description on our planet. *waits for a response that doesn’t come* It’s okay if you don’t wanna talk about it, but I just thought...
Leonard: Thought what? Go on.
Myka: I thought that there was something between us, but maybe I’m way off base.
Leonard: You’re not, but it’s complicated. I had just finalized my divorce before I arrived here. I mean that literally. I signed the papers, then stepped outside to mail them on my way to meet a friend. I forgot something inside, so I went back in real quick, and when I opened the door again, I was here. I didn’t even notice that something was weird until I looked up and realized that I was no longer in my neighborhood. My first thought was that I lost time, but then the patrol officer started talking about the National Commander, instead of the President, and I knew that something was really wrong. I think my mail went through, but I don’t know that for sure. Maybe I’m remembering that wrong. Maybe I’m not really divorced.
Myka: Forgive me, but it sounds like you are regardless. A divorce doesn’t happen once the lawyers get the paperwork. It happens when you decide that it needs to. Of course, until those papers are signed, you can always change your mind, but you did sign them. You did make that decision, and your ex did too, didn’t they?
Leonard: Yeah, she signed them first.
Myka: I’m not asking for your love, I’m just asking what your love is gonna take.
Leonard: Those are song lyrics where I come from. Did you do that on purpose?
Myka: A man I once knew said that to me long ago. Maybe he was from your universe too. Look, I know we’re dealing with a lot right now, but we both deserve to be happy. I just want you to know that it’s okay to be a little selfish. Not everything is about DExA.
Leonard: You’re right. But let’s start slow. We can’t really go out to eat, so...wanna check out the shooting range that Micro apparently built herself?

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 23, 2414

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Mateo was the one to donate his blood to Karla, so she could start skipping time, and remain on the same pattern as their daughter. This was intentionally a temporary fix, just in case she changed her mind later. It made sense on paper to stay this way forever, but she may decide that it would be best for her to always be waiting for little Romana to return to the timestream. She had about a week to decide, and if she still wasn’t sure, they could always give her a second dose of the temporary pattern-sharing serum, instead of the permanent one. Perhaps they would just keep doing it like that. Neither Cassidy nor Mateo had a problem with this eventuality.
She was a very special little baby. Generally speaking, the first time a person travels through time—and usually to a lesser degree for every subsequent trip—it’s a jarring experience. It can come with sometimes very nasty side effects, such as nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, or diarrhea, among other possibilities. These symptoms can come on in the moments leading up to the jump, and last for minutes or hours afterwards. For Romana, she seemed to have no issue at all. As midnight central approached, she giggled, as if it were a pleasurable experience for her. It probably was. It wasn’t the first time she did it; just the first time after she was born. The truth was that it had happened to her about 270 times before this. It was part of who she was, in a deeper sense than most time travelers, including her own father. Meliora Rutherford, the daughter of this building’s namescape, was likely the only person with some understanding of what Romana’s is going through right now. They couldn’t wait until she was verbal.
It was April 23, 2414 on Dardius right now. The Dardieti toyed with their own calendar for a while before deciding to conform to that of Earth’s. A dying man was sent back in time about two millennia to let his final act alive be setting the flag of Dardius in the North Pole. His remains were discovered beside the now-buried remnants of that flag in recent days. His fusion-powered solar watch was still ticking, allowing them to accept the calendar as real. Of course, this was but a symbolic gesture. There was no real reason why they couldn’t simply deliberately have declared what year it was without technically starting at zero, but it made it a little easier to believe in.
Leona was sitting on the huge penthouse balcony, watching the sun rise. The arch that the Isaac Skybridge created was facing north and south, so the sun came up over Lincoln Tower, and set over Rutherford Tower. It was beautiful up here. There was no rule that LIR Towers had to be the tallest structure in the city, but it was. In fact, it remained the tallest one in the world. They were pretty lucky to live here now, and hopefully it would last. Leona being the cynic of the group, was not so convinced, but she wasn’t about to let that on to anyone else. It wasn’t helpful. So she was regarding the sky, and appreciating the time that they did have in this wondrous place. As she sat there, she started to feel a pull behind her. It was Ramses, calling to her from the Dante using their empathetic bond. She stood up, and teleported to the shuttle.
Ramses was in his laboratory pocket dimension, hunched over his table, studying something with his ocular loupes. “I’m hoping not to have disturbed you. It did not feel as if you were asleep.”
“I did not sleep,” Leona clarified. “None of us but Mateo did. Did you see the bed they designed for him and Karla?”
Ramses looks up from his work. “No? This sounds juicy.”
She laughed. “It’s a giant king-plus sized bed with a bassinet installed in the center, so co-parents can sleep on either side of the baby.”
He chuckled. “Cute.”
“I should say, I don’t think the concept was inspired by them. I believe it’s a normal product that anyone can order, but this one was custom-made as a gift from a friend of the family, or maybe just a fan.”
“Who knows, this planet is weird.”
“What are you working on there?”
“The rosary.” He lifted it up with a pair of tweezers. “I’ve been trying to get it to work. So far, I’ve been able to guess at its function, but not actually trigger its power.”
She looked upon it. “I forgot about this thing. It definitely works. I’ve seen it used. You, or someone who looks very much like you, used it at The Edge meeting. And someone who looked very much like you popped in and out of the timeline while I was gone to take things from the team.” It could be that the real version of him was never destined to use it. Ramses was in possession of it now, and Future!Leona will have it at some point later. It pretty much had to be in that order, because Ramses took it directly from Arcadia in another brane, but that was the extent of their understanding of the thing. It didn’t mean he would ever figure out how to operate it. “What does it do?”
“I counteracts time.”
“In what way?”
“Well, you said that this other Ramses—maybe Future!Me, maybe always Future!Leona—would squeeze it and disappear. That sounds like your average time travel or teleportation. But if that’s the case, why is it so coveted? Why does it matter? Plenty of people can do that on their own, there’s no real reason for anyone else to want it, especially not Future!Leona. She can do a ton of things. My best guess is that when someone uses it, they separate themselves from whatever time is doing to them in that moment. If they’re moving forward in time at typical speed, maybe they move backwards, or maybe just slower. If true, it could be reapplied to other temporal manipulations, such as breaking out of a time bubble, or undoing illusions, like invisibility.”
Leona looked away to think. “Or time jump patterns.”
He nodded solemnly. “It could...cure us. That is, if you look at it as a disease, which I personally don’t. After all, I did this to myself on purpose.”
She nodded back, just as solemnly. “But it could cure Romana. She could be a normal little girl.”
“That’s not my call, and like I said, I can’t turn it on.” He stood up, and walked over to a locker. “But that’s not all I wanted to show you this morning. Unlike the rosary, Dante 2.0 is complete.”
“Two-point-oh?” Leona questioned.
He smiled as he took what looked like a parachute pack out, and held it open. “Well, come on and put it on.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“What, you don’t trust me?”
“Not as far as I can throw you.”
He shook the pack, and then started helping her arms through the straps. “We’re five hundred meters up in the air, my dear. You could throw me quite far.” He came around and closed the waist buckle and chest buckle for her. “Looks good on ya.
“A parachute’s not gonna fit in here.”
He laughed. “It’s not a parachute.” He turned around so they were facing the same direction, and shook his hands accordingly. “Left is open, right is closed. I’m working on a special function that happens when you pull them at the same time, but that’s not ready yet. For now, that will just do nothing.”
“You’ve still not yet said what either one of the other cords does.”
He smiled knowingly, and pulled the right cord for her. Everything around them started to collapse in on itself, and become sucked into the pack as it shrank. In seconds, the whole Dante was gone, and they were standing in the open air on the top of the Isaac Skybridge.
“Oh. That makes sense. It’s just like the Phoenix.”
“It was already designed to potentially be collapsed into an uninhabitable pocket dimension of its own. All I had to do was reprogram it to collapse into this thing, instead of the suitcase that the rest of the capital ship goes into. The only thing is, if this shuttle were ever to be reunited with the Phoenix, I’m not sure whether it would function correctly or safely. It may go ahead and fall into the suitcase along with everything else, or it’ll be vaporized.” He grimaced at the thought.
She shook her head. “We’re never getting the Phoenix back. The people from the afterlife simulation need it more than we ever could.”
Suddenly, guardsmen from both towers rushed onto the bridge, and pointed their weapons in strategic directions. “Is everything okay, sirs?” one of them asked. “Your shuttle disappeared!”
“Everything’s fine!” Leona assured them. I just...put it in my bag!”
They were still on high alert. “Are you quite certain? We can protect you from anything!” the leader from Rutherford Tower added.
“Really, it’s fine! We didn’t mean to alarm you. Um...” She switched to false bravado. “Return to your posts, please. I think I’m going to..take it out of the bag again!”
The guardsmen retreated into their respective towers, except for one. He was just a kid, surely no older than nineteen. He held his gun at the low ready position. He was trying to avoid eye contact like he was really trying to avoid being noticed.
“You may go, soldier!” Ramses encouraged.
“I was actually hoping to, um...see it?”
“From outside, or in?” Ramses asked him.
The young man thought about it. “Both!”
Leona removed the Dante pack, and handed it to Ramses. She approached the soldier. “What’s your name, son?”
“Mercari, sir. Officer Mercari. This is my first week.”
“Are you related to Andromeda Mercari?”
“Distantly, sir. I...I can’t remember the family tree.”
“You don’t have to call me sir. I’m just a person. Why don’t you set that gun down? I don’t like weapons.”
Officer Mercari switched the safety on, and set the rifle down against the wall.
“We’ll start out here. Go ahead and do it!” she called over to Ramses.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Extremus: Year 58

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Lilian Diamond’s job in the government is neither glamorous, nor revered. By most, it’s considered unimportant, and even a waste of space and resources. But it actually is important, and it deserves a lot more respect. Extremus is made of metal and metamaterials. For half a moment, the original designers considered going extremely creative, and making it organic, but they decided against that. They didn’t know at the time that the temporal engineer would come up with a way to repair the ship with time traveling shuttles, but even if they had, finding organic material out here in the galaxy would have proven difficult at best. A lot of people who came aboard could remember living on Ansutah, which was—though not lifeless—sparse with flora. It had just about  no fauna besides the humans and the Maramon. The humans survived by farming and harvesting what few edible plants there were. It’s a wonder they survived, but however they did, they seemed to never develop an appreciation for wildlife.
This mentality carried over into this universe, where they lived in gigantic rotating habitats. The majority of such cylinders are planned with plenty of forests and parks. And why shouldn’t they be? The climate can be controlled perfectly. As long as water is handled correctly, there’s never any drought, or hurricanes, or blight. Being in nature is easier in a place like that. But the four cylinders that the Ansutahan humans lived could not afford to waste space on these luxuries. They have to house billions of people in the most efficient way possible. There are rooftop gardens, but most of them have died, because no one tended to them, because they don’t care. This mentality was carried over again to Extremus. Space is dedicated to housing, and food production. The latter is green, but it isn’t beautiful. Once again, it was made to be efficient, and not worthy of visiting. They simply could not have installed anything larger than a small park, which almost no one ever visits. Lilian’s daily responsibilities mostly involve lobbying for more park space, and encouraging residents to visit the one that they have. It is a lot of work for nearly no gain. But what could they do?
“I have an idea,” Tinaya says.
“Let’s hear it,” Lilian replies
Tinaya has been Lilian’s assistant for months now, writing up proposal after proposal, and making sure the park stays alive in this pretty hostile environment. They’re the only two people who work in the park, and it’s almost not worth it. A few people do come; the regulars, they call them. They’re outliers who actually do appreciate green spaces. But they are pretty much the only people this park can accommodate. This is the dilemma that Lilian faces. She wants more people to come enjoy it, but they can’t all do that. Maybe if more people were interested, she would be able to convince her superiors to dedicate more space to greenery, but which comes first, and how does this work? There’s plenty of room on this ship right now, but in 150 years, they’ll be reaching capacity, because they’re supposed to be nearing their destination. “Expansion.”
“Expansion, how?”
“Let’s make the ship bigger. You keep asking for a second park at the edge of the presently uninhabited section, or a few other spots. Have you ever thought about asking to build an entirely new section on the back of the ship?”
“Is that even possible?” Lilian questions.
“Absolutely, it’s possible. Before either of us was even born, a devastating micrometeoroid strike destroyed almost the whole engineering section. They rebuilt it, which means that they could do that again, but instead of a rebuild, it would just be a first build. I’ve been working on some designs that I didn’t want to bring to you until I was satisfied with them. I think my best one is a forest that spans the entire length and breadth of Extremus, right on top of what’s currently the top level.” She turns her tablet to show Lilian what she’s come up with.
Lilian turns her head away instinctively. “I’ve been asking for another little park for years. It would, at worst, prevent three families from being able to move in over a hundred years from now. Now you want me to multiply that by...honestly, I don’t know how big the ship is, but that sounds...crazy, right? It’s crazy.”
“I don’t think so. It wouldn’t halt the population growth at all. In fact, it would promote it. You’re the one who’s always talking about the mental health benefits of having access to forestland. Our ancestors understood that, and if they didn’t have powers, patterns, or afflictions that they had to get rid of, they never would have gone to the desolate deathlands that was Ansutah. They just had no choice.”
“We wouldn’t have existed if they hadn’t done that.”
“I know. For centuries, our people have lived in stone and dirt and metal. We have the chance to change that. I believe in the mission as much as the next girl, but what are we waiting for? None of us is going to be alive to see the Extremus planet. We’re just...incubators, here to protect the future peoples who will enjoy the fruits of our labor. But that doesn’t mean that we have to suffer. Why not build a giant forest on the roof? Why not plant a thousand trees to sit under and daydream? Why limit ourselves to one park that no one goes to?”
“Exactly. No one comes here, so what makes you think they’re going to come to this hypothetical indoor forest?”
“Because they’ll be the ones who built it.”
“I don’t understand. Why would anyone have to build anything? That’s why we have robots.”
Tinaya swipes over to a different app. “I’ve been...seeing someone who works for the citizenry administrator.”
Lilian smirks. “Tinaya Leithe, are you in love?”
“Stop. It’s not that big a deal. We mostly talk about work, and he showed me some stats.”
Now Lilian accepts the tablet. “What am I looking at here?”
“You and I met because I was having trouble with my contribution score. As it turns out, I’m not the only one. They’re all going down. Everyone’s fine, everyone’s alive, but they’re not working, and they’re not enjoying life.”
“The civilian government has almost been cut in half since Extremus launched. Half! And the population has been rising, like it’s supposed to. Well, I mean, it’s actually a little slower than they predicted, but that’s why we need mental health programs, like the attic forest. I just now decided to call it an attic, instead of a roof. That makes more sense. Anyway, people need jobs. They don’t need them, but they need them.”
“Yeah, my brother just had to let someone go because the spa doesn’t get as many visits as it once did, which means her score also went down...assuming this is why there’s been a drop in patronage.”
“Lilian, the government isn’t supporting the people, and the people aren’t supporting the government. Nando thinks—”
“Nando? His name is Nando? Do I know this Nando?”
“No. He thinks this is the start of a huge problem. Because take a look at this one.” She reaches over, and swipes the tablet for her. “There was a suicide last year.”
“Oh, dear.”
“Now, you can’t multiply by zero, so there’s no real number that tells us how much the suicide rate has gone up. The percentage of increase from zero to one is undefined. But mathematically, it’s an increase to infinity, because it’s the first one we’ve ever had. And it’s because of a general decline in mental health. It— could just be the first of many. We need the forest more than ever, and we need to get people involved in the project.”
Lilian stares at the suicide rate for a moment. “Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“It was buried in the news,” Tinaya explains. “It wasn’t covered up, but it wasn’t covered much either. The headline that day was about a little boy who won’t eat unless he’s dressed like a cat, and his plate is placed on the floor for him.”
Lilian is perturbed but not surprised by this. She sighs, and swipes back over to study the forest design. “You can’t have these close together. The black walnut will kill the tomatoes. I’ve told you this. You don’t always listen.”
“I did that on purpose as a prank,” Tinaya explains with a smirk. “There won’t be any black walnut in the real design. Walnuts, and their trees, are terrible.”
“It’s gonna take forever for these trees to grow. I mean, we can ask people to crouch on the ground and plant them, but they’ll die before the trees get big enough for the people who did that to enjoy. Except for the bamboo. The bamboo will be fun.”
Tinaya nods. “There’s a way around that.”
Lilian looks at her incredulously.
“Heh...time, right?”
Lilian sort of rolls her eyes. “You wanna create a time bubble so it grows literally overnight. Isn’t that illegal?”
“I’m sure we could figure it out,” Tinaya says with a shrug like it’s no big D. “I can talk to the Captain, you can talk to the First Chair.
Lilian scoffs. “I don’t get audience with the First Chair.”
“Well, I’m sure you can make your way up high enough to get things going. We can do this, Lilian. We can make this happen. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s gonna be a shit-ton of work, but what’s the point of living if you don’t do stuff? I may never become captain, but if we pull this off, we’ll both go down in history as heroes.”
“Is that why you wanna do it? That’s not a great reason.”
“Who cares what my motives are if it happens? The result is what matters. The trees and the plants and the fruits and the vegetables are what matter. You taught me how great it feels to take that first bite into a tomato that I planted and picked myself. If you want everyone to feel that, then let’s give them the chance. Not everyone can work for the best civil servant in the world.”
“That’s sweet,” Lilian says with a smile. “Okay, but we’re not talking to anybody else about it until we get the design perfect. Let me work on it myself. We gotta get rid of those black walnuts.” She shakes her head.
“All right, but let me talk to Valencia and Omega. If we’re going to use a time bubble, they’ll be the ones to do it.”
“No, don’t do that. They don’t work for the ship anymore. Reach out to Atkinson.”

Friday, September 22, 2023

Microstory 1980: Cover

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Reese: How are we lookin’?
Micro: Fully secure...virtually. I can’t attest to the physical component. So if they find us, it won’t be because someone traces my signals. We’re ghosts. I’ll get the ceramics.
Reese: *phone rings* So if I answer this call, I’ll be fine?
Micro: Without a doubt.
Reese: *answers the phone* Go for Parsons.
SI Eliot: *through the phone* Agent Parsons, where are you?
Reese: I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, sir.
*SI Eliot will continue to communicate via phone call for this conversation*
SI Eliot: Don’t make me laugh, calling me sir while you’re actively betraying the government. Come back in, and I’ll protect you.
Reese: That’s not going to happen. We can’t trust anyone.
SI Eliot: How do you know that you can trust each other?
Reese: I trust the freemen and women. I trust Leonard. I don’t trust anyone with current, or former, ties to the government. You’ll notice that Agents Altimari, Robles, and Flynn are not with us. They could be plants too, as could Dreyer.
SI Eliot: Washington agreed to conscript the freepersons for their low probability of being corrupt. And Robles, Flynn, and Altimari are my people. I trust them implicitly.
Reese: But we can’t trust you either, or Director Washington. She’s the one who assigned Sachs to us. It was always suspicious, and now we know why. We asked him about his loyalties. He said two things. First, he admitted to attempting to kill Vogel to protect his own identity, and second, he claimed to be a continuing patriot. That usually means he still answers to someone in the government. Until that person is found, along with all of their cohorts, we have no choice but to operate independently.
SI Eliot: It’s not me, and it’s not Washington.
Reese: Sure.
SI Eliot: Reese, if you do this, I can’t help you. You and your team will be considered enemies of the state. They’ll be branded as traitors, and hunted down with the full force of the law. Your old partner will probably ask to arrest you himself.
Reese: They’re not traitors, and neither am I. Think through this logically. The country is in trouble. Trust is in short supply, which leads to mistakes and general inefficacy.
Micro: *saluting* General Inefficacy.
Reese: *holding the mouthpiece* Shh. *to SI Eliot* More aliens are coming. I can feel it. The best thing we can do to stop them is to compartmentalize our forces. We need to learn to attack from all angles, because I can guarantee you that that’s what the Ochivari are gonna do. They’ve been found in Kansas and Wyoming. How long before it’s Indonesia? How long before Russia? What if they’re already working with the Chinese?
SI Eliot: What are you going to do for money?
Reese: *looks at Micro* We have that covered.
SI Eliot: *sighs* I’ve been asked to rein you in nonviolently. I can’t stop them from sending in the troops. How could you possibly hope to defend yourselves?
Reese: *looks at Anaïs* We have that covered too. Goodbye, Hisham. *hangs up*

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Microstory 1979: From the Shadows

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Leonard: No, she’s still not here. Ophelia? Ophelia? Can you hear me?
Micro: *walking up from the shadows* I’m blocking all signals.
Leonard: Report.
Micro: *smiling* Report. You’re learning, young padawan. First off, are you okay? You, Ophelia, and the prisoner? How did you get back here?
Leonard: We used one of Anaïs’ contacts to get across the borders, and then a bus.
Micro: *nodding* I’m glad you’re okay. I wanted to help, but we couldn’t tip Sachs off. Not that it mattered. Parsons escalated things at the safehouse, and we were forced to reveal the truth in front of Sasho. We still don’t know if we can trust him. That’s why I asked you to come here. This was our only way to keep Vogel safe and alive until we can figure out how many moles there are left in the government. He is alive, isn’t he?
Leonard: He’s fine. He’s in a safehouse that I set up for myself while I was free, but before DExA began. *looking around* I assume this is yours?
Micro: All I could do was hope that your parolee told you where the Salmon Civic Center would be if we were in Salmonverse.
Leonard: We had lunch in this area once in my home universe. He pointed it out. Seemed innocuous and meaningless at the time.
Micro: I’m glad that he did.
Leonard: I’m taking Vogel to Parsons. Enough of this cloak and dagger crap. We are not equipped to hold onto the suspect on our own, and every day we spend in the cold gets us closer to being burned.
Reese: I’m pleased to hear you say that. *walks up from the shadows*
Leonard: This was all just a test?
Micro: Have you heard of Lima Syndrome where you’re from?
Leonard: No.
Reese: We don’t have it either. Apparently it’s when you start to sympathize with someone you have in captivity. I had to be sure you weren’t compromised. Or Ophelia.
Leonard: Oh, the Grapley Effect. Yeah, we have that.
Reese: *hands Leonard a folder* This is what we have on Sachs. I had a friend from my military days look into it independently to verify it. He’s been playing us the whole time.
Leonard: I assume he took a shot at Vogel to shut him up?
Micro: That’s our assumption as well. We need to find out what—and who—he knows.
Leonard: *looking over the documents* This begs the question...
Reese: Director Washington? She’s the one who assigned Sachs to our department. Yeah, I’m worried about her loyalties too. That’s not our job, though. The Internal Compliance Commission will investigate on their own.
Leonard: In the meantime, what happens to us?
Reese: We’ve been shut down. But there’s hope for us yet.
Leonard: In what way?
Myka: *coming out of the shadows with a bunch of others* We’re working out of here now. Congratulations, Miazga, you’ve just joined a rogue operation.
Leonard: Not my first.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Microstory 1978: Alleged Smuggler

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image AI software
Leonard: Are you Moenia?
Moenia: Yo, who’s askin’?
Leonard: We’re friends of Becca’s.
Moenia: Yeah, she mentioned she had a new crew. She told you about our dead drop?
Leonard: She told us you could help us. She said you were her most trusted smuggler.
Moenia: Alleged smuggler.
Leonard: Right. Well, we need to get across the border.
Moenia: How far across, copper?
Leonard: Not a cop. And it depends on how safe it is on the other side of the first one.
Moenia: Not very, I always say. You wanna be safe, you get yourself all the way into Kentucky. Or Missouri, if you’re in a bigger hurry.
Ophelia: We a hurry, that is.
Moenia: *nods* She tell you my usual fee?
Ophelia: Becca said nothing, but money is no object. It may just be...a bit delayed.
Moenia: I don’t deal in money, I deal in favors. I’ll take you with me. I’ll carry you all the way to Dexter or Poplar Bluff. Once there, we’ll part ways, but one day, I’ll call upon you, and you can’t refuse me. I don’t care if I’m askin’ you to kill the National Commander of the United States, you answer that call, no questions asked.
Leonard: We’re not going to—
Moenia: It won’t be that. It won’t be anything that ridiculous. I use that as an example, because you’ll be takin’ a huge risk, accepting my help. It may be somethin’ you don’t wanna do, or it may be as simple as tying my shoes for me. Now that is a favor that I actually did call in. It’s worse than it sounds. That was four years ago, and word is, the dude is still scared out of his mind that it meant more than how it looked on the surface. He ain’t slept right since. That’s the gamble. I know within five minutes of meeting someone what kind of favor to ask them. You need to be prepared for that.
Ophelia: We’ll take it. Get us to Missouri.
Moenia: That guy’s been quiet. What’s his deal?
Ophelia: Oh, him? He’s not allowed to talk.
Vogel: Not true.
Ophelia: *slaps him in the head* Shut up. *to Moenia* Three tickets, please.
Moenia: Three tickets, three favors.
Leonard: *looks down at Vogel* Well...
Moenia: Favors are transferable. He looks to be your prisoner, which means he could be dead by the time I need to collect, so I’ll let you do whatever it is in his stead. Deal?
Vogel: I have a better deal. I’ll give you four favors, you kill these two yahoos, and take me over the border instead.
Leonard: She told you to shut up.
Moenia: Now hold on a minute, let me think about it.
Ophelia: Moenia, don’t do this. Becca will not be pleased.
Moenia: I’m just playin’ witchya. Just make sure to keep him quiet. We’re headed into dangerous territory. The Mississippi border is even worse than the rest of it.