Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Microstory 2007: Oregon

In summer of 1987, papa was 14 years old, and about to start high school for the first time. But remember, this would be at the same school he was before, but it was still going to be different. His mother was a teacher, so she knew how important schooling was. She knew that it was going to be a lot harder for papa than it was in the lower grades. She wanted him to have one more experience as a kid, where he could have fun, and not worry about grades yet. She also wanted him to be away from his family, because she knew that he was going to have to go off to college when he got older, so he had to learn. She found a summer camp that went for a whole two months! I went to summer camp once, but it was only for two weeks. Papa only saw his parents twice while he was there, and his sister once. I remember him telling me that he had a lot of fun, but he was sad to be away from his family and friends for so very long. He made friends there, though, that he stayed friends with. They did a whole lot of things there, like swimming, horseback riding, and even archery. The camp was in Oregon, so it took them 9 hours to get there, which is why his family didn’t get to visit him very often. The place was called Antelope Reservoir Camp, and it doesn’t exist anymore, because the people who owned it ran out of money. I would have liked to see where my papa spent so much time, but maybe when I’m older, my dad will let me go to a place that’s like it.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Microstory 2006: Idaho

All of us go to a middle school that starts at 6th grade, and ends in 8th grade. Before that, we were in elementary school, and after this, we’ll go to high school. That’s not how it is everywhere, though. When my papa was thirteen, his mother got a call from a school district in Idaho Falls, which is in Idaho, of course. When he was three, she started working as a teacher at a junior high, which is only 7th and 8th grades. She went to college to learn how to be a teacher, but after she had kids, she decided to stay home with them, and never actually got to be a teacher yet. In 1986, she had been doing it for ten years when they were in the middle of building a brand new school in Idaho. They asked her to be the principal of it, but it was not like the one where she was already. This school had all the grades in the same place. Kindergartners and 12th graders all went to the same really, really big building. I’m sure they had special reasons for doing it like that, but I don’t know what they are. I think the school is still there. As I was saying, papa’s mother moved the whole family there so she could be principal. She was making a lot of money from doing that. My dad says that 40,000 would be more than 100,000 in today’s dollars. I don’t understand why it’s different, but it sounds like a lot. Papa’s father had to quit his really good paying job when they moved to Idaho, but since he was the boss in Wyoming, he was able to get a really good new job in Idaho doing pretty much the same thing. This is where they lived for many years.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 28, 2419

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The Team quickly discovered that they actually weren’t necessarily stuck on Flindekeldan. When they first escaped from here over 160 years ago, they did so by flying through a transition window, which took them to the main sequence version of the planet. After they were gone, luring their enemy at the time away, Ellie Underhill sealed up this window in order to protect the remaining residents of this world. When the five realities were destroyed, and taken into the Sixth Key—or in the case of the main sequence, copied and left whole—all of the inhabited habitats were brought along for the ride. Some of them were on planets, some inside of rotating cylinders, and some only on transport ships. There were five versions of Earth, five versions of Proxima Doma, even five versions of Durus. Flindekeldan was different in that it was only inhabited in the main sequence, and in the Parallel, so only those two ended up in the Sixth Key together.
But together would be a strong word to use in this case, because something went wrong here. The other version ended up flying off away from the star system, and into the interstellar void, traveling at an incredibly high speed. The Flindekeldans have since lost track of it, so if Team Matic wanted to get to its Nexus, they would have to find it first. It wasn’t just about them, though. Arcadia and Vearden also wanted to return to the rest of civilization, but there was a complication. Their daughter only existed for one day a year, and that day did not correspond with the other time jumpers. So while they were gone for their interim year, the Haywoods took the Dante into orbit, along with Cheyenne. Now that she was flying in a ship, Cheyenne would always return to the timestream relative to that, rather than the middle of orbital space, which would kill her. In the meantime, Arcadia and Vearden lived up there alone. Also during this time, Ramses’ probes went off in search of the other Flindekeldan.
Today was April 28, 2419, so the team was back, and Flindakeldan II was found, but Cheyenne was gone again. They could reach their exit in a matter of hours, but then what? “Uhh,” Olimpia started, “is this going to work? What happens to Cheyenne?”
“She’ll come back to that crib, where she was, even though we will have moved,” Mateo reasoned.
“Will she?” Olimpia pressed. “Even after we take the Dante through the Nexus?”
Oh no, that was a good point. Leona hadn’t thought this through. The moving spaceship rule was bestowed upon them many, many years ago. It was so long ago that they had never even heard of real Nexa. This was too much of a risk. No one’s fate was decided. Baby Cheyenne could very well die here. They couldn’t leave. Well, they could, but they couldn’t take the ship with them. The Haywoods and Team Matic were going to have to travel separately. They were on a different schedule. “That’s okay. Dante will transport us all to the Nexus. While we stay behind, I’ll make sure that you two understand how to collapse the shuttle into its pocket dimension. Once Cheyenne comes back, you’ll take her through. Months later, we’ll follow.”
“Are you sure?” Vearden asked. “Why don’t we just leave your shuttle here? After Cheyenne comes back to us, we shouldn’t need it anymore.”
“We don’t know what state the Gatewood Collective will be in,” Leona explains. “They could already be in the midst of war. You’ll need your own vessel. I would rather never see the Dante again then leave you stranded in the Gatewood Nexus building with no resources.”
“Either way, we better get going,” Angela urged. “We don’t know the state of things on the other Flindekeldan either. I would rather hurry up and wait than wait to hurry up.”
“She’s right,” Mateo said. “Is everyone ready to go?”
“Dante,” Leona began as everyone was nodding, “yalla.”
The shuttle flew out of the solar system. It wasn’t long before they caught up with the second Flindekeldan, hurtling through space, devoid of life and its atmosphere. Hopefully the Nexus building would be protected from the now-harsh environment, and if it wasn’t, they would make it that way. Unlike last time, they knew precisely where it was, but out of a concern for safety, Mateo and Ramses decided to teleport down to the surface alone. They were right to be worried. The building’s door was open, exposing the chamber to the freezing cold temperatures of outer space. It wasn’t empty, though. A man and a woman were in the Nexus cavity. A temporal field made it look like they were frozen in place. Ramses detected life signs, though, so that was good. He pointed his instrument up towards the control room, which was sealed shut.
The two of them teleported inside. Here the atmosphere survived. “Hey, Opsocor?” Mateo asked. “Yeah, I didn’t think it would be that easy,” he said when no one responded. “We should have brought Leona with us.”
“She doesn’t want to talk to Venus,” Ramses reminded him. “We can figure this out ourselves. Most people aren’t even aware that the God of the Nexus exists, yet they still find a way to use the machines, and the network that they’re on.” He sat down, and got to work on the computer while Mateo got on the radio, and updated the team.
A few minutes later, they realized that they were running out of air. If Ramses didn’t repressurize and recycle the oxygen, they wouldn’t have much time left. It never came to that, though. He reengaged life support, and dropped the temporal bubble. The two who had been kept alive in there stumbled around for a minute, dazed and confused. Once their brains stopped spinning, they noticed Mateo standing at the top of the stairs. “Mister Matic, is that you?” the man asked.
“It is.”
“We were locked out of the control room, and out of the entire network. I initiated the emergency stasis protocol, because that was our only option when we discovered that the door was stuck open too.”
“Are you aware of what happened? Have you heard of the Sixth Key?” Mateo filled them in on the basics while the rest of the group teleported down. Except for Arcadia, who didn’t want to leave Cheyenne’s crib unattended out here in the black, even though she wasn’t going to be there for months.
“The portal between the two Flindekeldans wasn’t sealed up,” the woman began to explain their side of the story. “It was locked. It was our shift to be stationed here, in case anyone wanted to leave, just as you did decades ago. No one ever did, but we maintained the connection in the event. We have to get this machine back to where it belongs. If both planets are now in the same reality, and the transition portal connecting them no longer exists, then we have to move it physically. People deserve the option.”
“Is that possible?” Marie asked Leona.
“The Nexus building can survive in the vacuum, and it has a moderate propulsion system, but it’s only good for stationkeeping. You couldn’t fly the tens of thousands of astronomical units you would need to in order to make the journey back to the other Flindekeldan.”
“Can the Dante do it?” Marie continued. “Can it tow it back?”
Leona sighed. “If the building were already in space, I suppose it could, but it’s been installed on the surface. I don’t know how to get it up there.”
“Can you...ask?”
Leona signed again. “Goddammit,” she muttered under her breath. “Hey, Venus?”
No response.
“Hey, Venus? Hey, Opsocor? Hey, Venus Opsocor?”
“She’s probably mad that you’ve found a loophole,” Mateo guesses. “She didn’t want you to leave.”
“Well, we can leave,” Ramses announced. “I’m seeing hundreds of destinations in the computer. We’re not locked out of any of them.” He regarded the screen in horror. “Wait. No, we’re—” His eyes widened. “Okay, now we are. We’re locked out of everywhere. Every single destination. This Nexus goes nowhere; does nothing.”
“Venus,” Leona complained under her breath again.
“Hold on,” Ramses said. “I spoke too soon. I think we can still go to Worlon.”
“That’s what she wanted.”
“This is what happens when you get mixed up with a god,” Mateo lamented. “I’ve been there.”
“A god,” Leona whispered. “Everyone jump back to the shuttle...except for Mateo. Do it now. Take a friend.”
Olimpia took one of the technicians by the hand, and Angela took the other. Ramses took Vearden’s. They all disappeared, leaving Mateo alone, not having any clue what he was meant to do now. Then he started to experience a deep overwhelming feeling. It was coming from all of his friends in orbit. For the last several days, when there was nothing else to do, they had tried to work on a way to communicate with each other using their psychic bonds. Since Ramses still couldn’t figure out how to make true telepathy happen, they were limited to conveying their emotions. That could only get them so far, thought, unless they used it as a code. It was a pretty simple system. Each emotion was assigned a letter; the first letter. For instance, annoyance could stand for A, boredom could stand for B. By slipping from one emotion to another in rapid succession, words could theoretically be constructed. It would take a long time to convey more than a single word, but it was a start. Actually, they hadn’t really started it yet. Only the concept had been devised. They had yet to determine a way to tell the difference between an attempt to convey a letter of the alphabet, and just picking up on someone feeling that feeling for real, because people feel feelings.
Overwhelming, okay. O. Mateo stood there and waited. O. That was all they were saying: O, O, O, O, O. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Why did Leona choose him for this job? He was the dumbest of them all. He just kept trying to figure it out. O, O, O, O, O. Oh! Zero! He jumped into the Nexus cavity, and kicked the symbol that represented the number zero. Then he kicked the enter button, and disappeared.
A rowboat approached in the water. The god tied it off, and walked towards Mateo. “Hello, and welcome to Origin.”

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Extremus: Year 63

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
It’s happening again. The Captain is being stripped of his rank. But unlike Halan Yenant, who broke the law in order to save every life on the ship at the time, Soto Tamm’s actions were done out of selfishness and the abuse of power. It was also just disgusting. It was never against the law for a captain to have sex, but it was difficult to accomplish without arousing suspicion, no pun intended. There are few positions of sufficiently equal footing to allow relationships without any issue. It was fine when Tinaya’s aunt, Captain Kaiora Leithe developed a relationship with Dr. Ima Holmes, because Ima was Chief Medical Officer. She wasn’t a passenger, an apprentice, or a lower ranking member of the crew. The two also disclosed their partnership publicly immediately, which is what Kaiora would have been obligated to do if it had been nearly anyone else. She would have been fine connecting with the First or Second Chair, or maybe the Hock Watcher, or maybe a member of the council, but she probably would have had to disclose that too. Tamm didn’t do any of this. He slept with numerous people, did not report the encounters to anyone, and actively worked towards keeping his partners—if you can call them that—quiet. He acted like a predator.
A sex scandal? Really? That’s what it’s come to? Is peacetime worse than wartime? Are idle hands the devil’s tools? So far, the names of Tamm’s partners have not been released, and hopefully they never will, but one thing’s for sure, they don’t fall onto the list of acceptable partnerships. The former captain exhibited gross misconduct by indulging, if not pursuing, such contact. He was removed from his position, and his duties were redelegated to First Lieutenant Percival Applegarth, and Second Lieutenant Athan Velitchkov. It has been nearly a month now, though, and Velitchkov is the only one still standing. The investigators discovered that Applegarth was aware of Tamm’s crimes, and said nothing, so he has been removed from his position too. The ship is in chaos, and the civilian government has had to step in to carry the load. More specifically, while Velitchkov does pretty much everything a captain would do, Tinaya is all but officially serving as his lieutenant. She is the only one with any semblance of experience with putting out the kind of bonfires that this incident has built.
They can’t pull from the qualified graduates of the College of Executive Administration, because one of them could end up becoming the interim Captain. You can’t be a captain if you’ve already been a lieutenant. Of course, Tinaya is supposed to end up Captain, but she hasn’t technically been assigned the rank of Lieutenant, so it’s a super big gray area here. Don’t let anyone tell you that they know what the hell they’re doing, because they don’t. They are now only ever seconds away from complete annihilation, and it’s a wonder that it hasn’t happened already. Possibly the only thing holding everything together is that the Extemusians have become unified towards a singular goal. There is a passenger-driven campaign to install Tinaya as the captain, since that has always been the plan anyway, but she isn’t sure she wants that anymore. She loves her job. She even kind of likes what she’s doing right now, as bad as that may sound. She fixes problems, and as melodramatic as she’s being about the state of affairs, things are probably okay. The ship is not going to tear itself apart. She can be the glue as Captain, or as something else. You don’t have to use only one type of glue, to...lazily stick with the same metaphor. Pun intended.
The Council wants to speak with her today. They’re probably going to ask her to do it, and she honestly doesn’t know how she’s going to respond. She walks up to the Council Chambers, again passing the line by, but they don’t even bother offering it this time. You only wait in line if you’re the one asking to be there; not if you’ve been summoned. Lataran Keen is already in the room, standing on the center platform alone. The two of them have remained friendly for the last several years, but grew in different directions. They have lunch together occasionally, and it’s pleasant, but they don’t share secrets anymore, and love would be a very, very strong word to use to describe their current relationship status. Still, they hug, and in the midst of it, Tinaya whispers, “do you know why you’re here?”
“I assume it’s finally happening for us, just as we always wanted,” Lataran whispers back. They release, and face the Council.
“Thank you two for coming,” Cleader says. “This has been a difficult time for us all, and we appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this.” He leans to his left, but doesn’t cover the microphone. “Where is he?”
“He’s on his way,” the Councilor responds. “I believe we can start without him.”
“Very well,” Cleader goes on. “I am aware of what some believe they know of the future. Miss Leithe, you have always been called Captain, and as your best friend, I’m sure that you always intended Miss Keen to be your First Lieutenant. However, we do not think that this is the best course of action.”
Lataran seethes but keeps her composure. She knows she’s not entitled to the job.
Cleader clears his throat. “Athan Velitchkov will become the First Lieutenant. He is the obvious choice. Yes, conventionally, the captain appoints their own lieutenants, but in this scenario—because of what has happened, and the unusual timing of this shift in power—it is logical to us that Velitchkov should remain to help the new Captain with her new responsibilities. We will, however, allow you to appoint your own Second Lieutenant. Your respective shifts will last twenty-four years. These will not be interim positions. As the end of the next shift approaches, we will determine how to proceed, but it is possible that the final captain of the ship will simply still be captain after the 216-year journey has been completed, because we doubt that the Extremus planet will have been located by then. Now that we are in the void, instead of the Milky Way Galaxy proper, it will probably take our descendants longer to find a suitable new home than our ancestors originally envisioned. But of course, that is not our problem today. We are only here to extend the offer for the role of Sixth of Eleven. Lataran Keen, graduate from the College of Executive Administration, will you please accept this responsibility?”
Both Tinaya and Lataran tilt their lizard brains, and then they look at each other. What the fuh? Lataran silently mouths to her friend.
Tinaya is in shock as well, but a tsunami of relief quickly rolls over her, and she realizes that she really doesn’t want this. She doesn’t want to be captain, and despite Lataran’s years-long insistence that she was going to be happy with second place, she does. She has truly wanted it, and she truly deserves it. The Bridgers have been wrong this whole time. This is what’s meant to happen. The question is, why the hell is Tinaya here at all, because they think Lataran will appoint her as the Second Lieutenant? That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’s not amazing either. Again, she likes what she does now, moving around to different departments, handing out advice, watching people take that advice, and best of all, seeing them succeed from it. Lieutenants only experience two things: giving orders, or giving suggestions that no one listens to. That sounds stressful. Then again, it would be a new challenge, and she would accept it. That is assuming that’s why she’s here at all, and it’s not just so the Council can shove her loss of the captaincy in her face. It’s certainly not just so Lataran can have a friend by her side while she’s given the biggest opportunity of her life.
“Miss Keen?” Cleader urges. “Miss Keen.”
Lataran has been lost in her own thoughts at the same time. “I just...what about...?” She awkwardly points to Tinaya.
“Miss Leithe is not being offered the seat. You are. Please answer for yourself.”
“Take the job,” Tinaya urges quietly. “I’m not the runner up. Who else would you see doing it? Who else do you think is on their short list, and are you quite confident that they’re as good as you are, and not worse than Tamm?”
Lataran frowns kindly at her, but nods, and thinks on it some more. Finally, she says, “yes. Yes, I’ll do it. Thank you for this honor, Council.”
Cleader snaps his fingers twice. Someone approaches from a dark corner behind the dais, ceremoniously holding folded garments in his arms. “Your new uniform, printed to a perfect fit,” Cleader explains. “We expect you to start...” he pretends to care what his watch says. “...right now.”
Lataran accepts the uniform graciously, and bows awkwardly back at the tailor when he bows at her. Neither one of those things should have happened. She’s not royalty. She drops a fold to admire the whole thing at once, not realizing that it has come in two parts, so her pants nearly fall to the floor. Tinaya reaches out, and snatches them out of the air just in time. “Thank you.”
“You got it,” Tinaya replies. “You got this.”
“Now,” Cleader continues. “I’m sure you’re both wondering why Miss Leithe is here as well.”
Lataran opens her mouth to respond, but realizes that it was rhetorical.
“Miss Leithe, we did not anticipate this whole Soto Tamm debacle. We likely would have considered you for the captain’s seat instead, but you were unfortunately removed from contention years ago when your name was submitted for something else. As a neutral body of leadership, we are not allowed to endorse specific government candidates, but we still oversee the election committee, which is why we agreed to that loyalty test that you underwent last year. “
“What are you saying?” Tinaya asks him.
“I’m saying that we can’t say anything further, but if you’ll recall, you were asked to meet at a certain location on the ship at a certain time. That meeting has been made manifest, and moved back to today. Again, we can have nothing to do with it. I was merely asked to pass the message along, but I will say that it’s not a loyalty test this time, and it’s decidedly not a coup. Do attend. Thank you. That is all.” He looks up as if there’s anyone else to address. “We’ll recess for one hour before continuing with the grievances.” He bangs the gavel, and stands up, as do the rest of the councilors.
“What is he talking about?” Lataran asks. “What meeting?”
Tinaya checks her watch. “No time to explain. It’s happening right now. Congratulations. I love you.” They hug again, and then Tinaya disappears.
She steps into the Mirror Room to find Arqut Grieves waiting for her, which is no big surprise, because he’s the one who set up the fake meeting last year. What she doesn’t know is what has justified it becoming real today? What has he submitted her name to? “You’re one minute late,” he says. “Don’t worry, I know why.”
“I can’t be captain because you want me to serve in the civilian government?”
“You would have been a great captain, Miss Leithe. You’ll be a better First Chair.”
“First Chair? Are you serious?”
“Chairman Aleshire is nearing the end of his third, but final, term,” Arqut reasons. “He feels too old to continue, so he’s going to step down. Someone has to  replace him either way. For years now, I’ve watched you prove your intelligence, your strategic mind, your leadership skills. You’ve learned, you’ve grown. Truthfully, I can’t think of anyone better. Most Chairs have not been able to make it the full twelve years, but I’m confident that you can be the third to accomplish this. Of course, I was intending you to have three more years to prepare to take over, but Aleshire is tired, and he wants to be with his family. If you agree, he will endorse you fully, and you already enjoy a profoundly high approval rating.”
“I’m just a civilian, we don’t have approval ratings.”
Arqut chuckles. “Well, we do, and if you’re gonna be First Chair, you’re gonna need to know that.”
“I never agreed to run.”
He nods. “You’re right, and you shouldn’t agree to anything without knowing the full truth, which is that I screwed up the paperwork. I submitted your name in the wrong fashion, and that is what disqualified you from the captaincy. I basically made it look like you were the one requesting to be on the future ballot, when I should have filled out a nomination form. I just need to be totally open about this, and if you would like to distance yourself from me, I would understand. Unfortunately, it’s irreparable. You can never be captain under the current laws. If you want to make a difference, this is where you do it, not as a second lieutenant. I am sorry, but I don’t regret choosing you, because I am all but certain that everyone else will choose you too.”
If it’s already too late to be captain, which would be the case even if they hadn’t already offered it to Lataran, then maybe this is indeed the best thing for her. Is this what she has been working towards this whole time? Most of the jobs she’s taken have been on the civilian side of things. The crew hasn’t needed that much of her help. “How long do I have to think about it?”
“Your two major opponents have already announced their candidacies, so we—I’m sorry, you—should think about making your own announcement by the end of the week. Technically you could do it the day before voting day, but I would obviously never recommend that.”
Tinaya thinks through the decision, weighing the pros and cons in her head. She eyes the extraction mirror behind Arqut’s back, considering trying to seek advice from someone who is no longer with us, such as her aunt maybe? But in the end, she comes to a conclusion on her own. “Okay, I’ll try. But I’ll need you to stay on with me. I assume the fact that you submitted my name is a matter of record?”
“It is.”
“Then if I’m going to win, we need to make it look like this was the plan the whole time, and that we’ve been working together. You did not mess up the paperwork.”
He’s surprised by this suggestion, but he nods. “Okay. Then...let’s write an announcement, and start working on campaign strategies.”
They work on those strategies, and two days later, Tinaya announces her intentions, runs a good campaign, and actually wins. The funny thing is, the last thing that Chairman Aleshire does before the end of his own term is lobby to change the law that prevents high-level government officials from later joining the crew. Interesting.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Microstory 2005: South Dakota

When I was 8 years old, my papa and dad took me to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, but this wasn’t the first time that papa went there. He went when he was 11 with his whole sixth grade class. Lots of people who live in that area like to do that. It’s this big mountain with four presidents’ faces carved into it. You’ve probably seen pictures. It was really cool at first for me, but then I was a little bored. You would probably have just as much fun with a really good picture. I was just with my dads, but my papa went with his class, even though the school he went to didn’t have very much money. His family was probably the richest in the town, but that is not something they bragged about. They used their money to help people. And one of the things that they did was pay for the whole trip for all of the kids! The teachers wanted the kids to go, and the kids wanted to go, but a lot of the parents couldn’t afford it. So my grandpa donated 3,000 dollars! They only needed $2,500, but he added a little more so they could get a little bit better motel to sleep in for one night, and a little bit better food to eat. All of the families were really happy that the kids were able to go on the trip. The class made this big thank you card for my papa, and gave it to him, even though it wasn’t really his money. Anyway, my papa liked the trip, and he learned a lot about mountains and the presidents there. I don’t think I learned as much as he did, but I’m still glad that I got to go too.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Microstory 2004: Colorado

For most of their lives, my grandparents weren’t able to go on vacations. My grandpa was so poor, if he ever had a day when he wasn’t working, he was trying to do other things for work. He would paint a neighbor’s fence, or help out at the local gas station. Anything he could find to save money, he was doing it. This continued for many years, even after grandpa got a better job in Wyoming. They occasionally went to places nearby, but nothing that anyone would call a family vacation. In 1981, which was five years after the new job, grandpa was experiencing something that my dad calls burnout. That means his job was really hard, and he wasn’t taking care of his mental health. He had recently gotten an even better promotion, and he was working all the time. His wife made him take some time off so they could go on a real vacation. They chose Denver, Colorado. They chose it because it was in a different state, but also not too far away, so they were able to drive to it in a day. My papa was about to become an eight-year-old, and it was the summertime. He had a lot of memories of this period in his life, but he couldn’t remember much about this trip. He knew that he was at some kind of sports game, and also that they went hiking. He thinks they probably spent one of the days shopping too. What my grandma said is that my papa’s father loved this trip, and it changed how he saw the world. They would start going on more trips from now on, which is what helped my papa to end up going to all fifty states in the United States.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Microstory 2003: Wyoming

In the year 1976, my papa’s father went out looking for better work, and he finally found it, but it was in a different state. In fact, he had to drive over 160 miles to the interview. But he got the job! But of course, he couldn’t do that every single day, since it would take him almost three hours each time! So he moved the whole family to a city called Buffalo, Wyoming. You may have heard of the Buffalo in New York, but you can actually have two different cities with the same name. It happens all the time. Anyway, the house they moved into was a lot bigger, because grandpa’s job was a lot better, so he was making a lot more money. My papa and his sister now had their own separate rooms, but the dog still always slept in my aunt’s room. I don’t know why. Before he died, papa told me that his first memory was of this new house in Wyoming, which he thought of as his first house, even though he lived in another one before, when he was a baby. Have you ever thought about your first memory? I do all the time. You probably don’t remember being a really little baby. What papa said is that he remembered playing in the leaves with his sister and a neighbor while their parents watched from the porch. He says that it was a lot of fun, but it had just rained, so the leaves were still a little bit wet and slimy. My first memory was when I was about the same age too, but it’s not a happy one, so my dad told me that I shouldn’t put it on the slide. I’m glad that my papa had a good memory for his first one.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Microstory 2002: Montana

When my papa was younger than me, he lived in a city called Billings, Montana, but like Alabama, he doesn’t remember it. Also like Alabama, he went back a few times when he was older to visit friends of the family. He only lived there for real for three years before my grandpa found a better job in Wyoming. For three years, he worked at things that my dad calls odd jobs, which means that they didn’t last very long. He was always very stressed and angry because he lost his factory job, but he was still a very nice man. He always gave my cousins a lot of great presents before he died. Grandpa died eight years ago, so I never knew him. He was born in Montana, and lived there for many years before he had his own kids. He retired in Florida, but that’s a story for another slide. I’m telling you about Montana now, which is where my papa lived until he was three. The house that they lived in was very small, because his family didn’t have very much money. He and his sister had to share a room with the dog. When my grandma was talking about this, she said that my papa was the best baby she had ever met in her life. Her daughter was a very fussy baby, but not my papa. Papa’s sister, who is my aunt, was only two years older than him, so she was born in 1971. Her name is Aunt Cooper. My grandma said that papa was a very happy baby, who was happy where they were living. Luckily, he didn’t have to be like that for very long when his father got a great opportunity to run a new plant in Wyoming. You can go to the next slide to hear about that.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Microstory 2001: Alabama

My papa, Aubrey was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on July 26, 1973 to father Burchard Jardine, and mother Daphne Smolak. Smolak was her maiden name, which means that that’s what her name was before she was married. She was a schoolteacher, and he worked in a factory. They were on their way back from a trip to Alabama when his mom gave birth at a hospital. It was about a month before papa was supposed to be born, so he was very small, and a little sick. He had to stay in the hospital for 11 days before the doctors said that he was healthy enough to leave and go home. He wasn’t able to breathe on his own, so they put him in a plastic box, and hooked him up to all these machines. They were also worried that he would get really sick, so they had to watch him all the time. My grandparents were sad and scared, but they prayed, and knew that he would get better, and he did. While they were there, papa’s dad lost his job at the factory, because he was supposed to be back at work on Monday, and his boss wasn’t very nice about it. It was the summertime, so my grandma didn’t lose her job. It was fine. Since he was just a baby, papa doesn’t even remember being in Alabama, but he went back when he was older to meet the doctor who delivered him. The doctor was very old by then, but he was still alive! He is not anymore, or he would be over 100 years old! My papa was 50 when he died, which is very young to die. Anyway, when papa was better, his parents left Alabama, and drove back to where they lived, which was Montana. It’s really far away, so it took them three days of driving. I bet they were pretty tired.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: April 27, 2418

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
It was time to go. None of them wanted to leave Dardius—least of all Mateo—but it was the right thing to do. He didn’t choose every aspect of his life, but he chose some of them, and no matter what the ratio was, Romana didn’t choose any of it for herself. She deserved to live in a comfortable and safe environment. It was going to be hard enough for her, only living for one day out of every year, and it wasn’t fair for Mateo to stick around if it was going to make that worse. This planet was the safest place to be only if Team Matic wasn’t on it. They attracted too much attention. They were magnets for trouble. Sure, they could find respite here and there every once in a while, but it was going to find them eventually, and they didn’t want anyone else to be caught in the crossfire. Karla, Silenus, and especially Constance would do right by Romana, and make sure she grew up to be a well-rounded individual. She would learn to make her own choices, and in several thousand years, if she wanted to start making a name for herself in this crazy multiverse, she could do that, and place her own self in danger. Until then, everyone else was responsible for making their respective sacrifices to protect her.
They had a grand breakfast together, complete with the best cuisine that Dardius had to offer. Vearden and the planet’s owners were all there, as well as some other government officials that Angela and Marie had grown close to over the last few days. When it was over, they said their goodbyes, and packed up the Dante. If you had told Mateo back when he was 27 years old that it was possible to store a spaceship inside of a backpack, he wouldn’t even have the concept for it in his imagination. Now it seemed so basic and unimpressive, even though it was still anything but. While Silenus was watching over the baby, Karla asked to see them off at the Nexus, so Mateo teleported her to Tribulation Island with the group. She swung her bag off of her shoulders, and dropped it onto the sand. “Silenus got this for you, but he asked me to say it was from me instead. I don’t like lying, so I’m not gonna do that. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly secure. It doesn’t store any images, or other data. No one can trace us from it.”
“What is it?” Mateo asked.
She opened the bag, and removed a box. She opened it, and pulled out a gooseneck mirror. “Now you can stay in touch.”
“Is that a time mirror?” Leona asked.
“One of a pair,” Karla confirmed. “It can’t be hacked, and it can’t be intercepted. It’s on its own special quantum frequency, or something.”
Leona looked over at Ramses.
“We have our own temporal engineers,” Karla explained. “You’re not the only inventors in the universe.”
“That’s fair,” Leona responded.
“Thank you,” Mateo said.
“I’m sure your wife can teach you how to use it,” Karla went on. “Unless you’re in the middle of talking to someone else, or Romana and I are out somewhere, I’ll make sure that it’s always pointed towards her. If we don’t answer, it doesn’t mean we’re not safe. It’s just not something that I can carry around. We’re probably just on a walk.”
“Thank you,” Mateo repeated. He carefully placed the communication time mirror back into its box, and then into his own bag.
They all stepped into the Nexus building. “Hey, Opsocor,” Leona asked.
No response.
“Opsocor, can you hear me?” Leona pressed.
Still no response.
“The techs can send you anywhere you wanna go,” Karla tried to explain.
“Not anywhere,” Leona contended. “We’re trying to go back to the Sixth Key.”
“Why would you go there? It doesn’t sound safe at this point in history.”
“Safe isn’t what we’re looking for,” Mateo told her. “There’s a mission somewhere out there that needs to be completed, and which we’re capable of accomplishing, so we’re going to do that. We can’t just go find a beach somewhere on a paradise world, and lounge about.” It sounded dumb to go off in search of trouble, but sitting around and doing nothing would defeat the whole purpose of keeping Mateo from his daughter. He had to stay busy, even if that meant deliberately inviting adventure and danger into their lives. They all agreed to this. “The Sixth Key is new, and on the verge of war.”
If they haven’t started fighting already,” Marie added.
“Right. Maybe we’ll make things worse,” Mateo continued, “but maybe we can help. We’re partially responsible for the mess they’re in, so we have to see if there’s anything we can do to prevent, or at least end, the killing.”
“Assuming it’s not inevitable,” Angela decided.
“Yeah, let’s hope as much.”
“Hey, Opsocor?” Karla asked the aether, just in case it worked.
“You may be the problem,” Leona hypothesized. “Everyone may be.” She looked up through the window to the control room.
We’ll go,” one of the technicians said through the speaker. “We’ll leave you be for ten minutes, but not a second longer. We cannot be away from our posts for longer than that.
“I should only need two minutes,” Leona told the two of them as they were coming down the stairs. “If she doesn’t respond to me by then, she probably never will.”
Karla gave Mateo a hug, and a mostly friendly kiss on the lips. “Call me maybe.”
“Absolutely,” he replied.
They cleared the room.
Leona took a deep breath. “Opsocor.”
Yes, Leona.
“I don’t understand your rules.”
You don’t have to.
“You’re always there, even if you don’t say anything, which means you know where we wanna go?”
Yes, and I’ll send you there, if you would like, but...
“But what?”
But it will put you on a path. I can see that path. Well, I can’t, but I know someone who can. You can get out of it. All you have to do is go to Worlon instead.
“Worlon?” Ramses questioned, very concerned. “The homeworld of the Ochivari? Are you sure?”
The Ochivari left so they wouldn’t destroy it again, so ironically enough, it’s the safest place to be right now.
“That’s not what we’re looking for,” Olimpia tells Opsocor before muttering under her breath, “we keep having to say that.”
Out of the group,” Opsocor began, “I answer only to Leona.
“Take us to the Sixth Key,” Leona requested. “Take us to the safest planet in the Sixth Key. Does that sound like a decent compromise?”
Very well. Step into the cavity.
They all did so. All of the sixteen numbers and activation glyph were etched on the walls of the cavity, which was only one step down. These were not only for decoration. It was possible to input the sequence from here, without doing anything with the computer in the control room, or the terminal on the wall. Whichever method one used for a departure, the glyphs on the kick buttons lit up in order to indicate where the travelers would be going. Leona’s eyes widened as she watched, but she wasn’t able to stop it in time. “Oh, you sneaky snake.”
The light overwhelmed them, and transported them not only to another planet, but another universe. And when they arrived, they realized that they were also not in the Milky Way Galaxy, where they expected to be. Everyone in the group who had been here before recognized it immediately, even though it had been 165 years since the last time. “Flindekeldan,” Olimpia whispered loudly.
“Oh. Seems nice enough,” Ramses noted.
“It doesn’t have a Nexus,” Mateo told him. “We’re stuck here.”
“How did you escape the first time?” Ramses asked.
“Desperately,” Mateo answered his friend cryptically.
“I’m sorry,” Leona said, shaking her head. “Venus tricked me.”
“She’s protective of you,” Mateo said comfortingly, with a kiss on her forehead.
“I can understand that,” came a voice behind them. “It was Leona. It was some version of Leona anyway. They didn’t know which one yet.
“Report,” the true Leona said.
“I’m Arcadia. We live here now. Some of us more than others.”
“You do?” Mateo asked, stepping forward. “You, Vearden, and little Cheyenne?”
“Vearden’s back home. I’m on a walk. Cheyenne is...”
“Cheyenne is what?” Leona urged.
“She doesn’t exist right now.”
“What do you mean, sh—?” Mateo began. “Oh, no.” It happened to them too.
Leona shook her head. “My alternate self. You’re in her body, so Cheyenne inherited the pattern.”
“Shouldn’t she be here today, though?” Olimpia reasoned. We’re here.”
“She’s not on your exact pattern,” Arcadia explained. “She’s on a similar one. She won’t be back until June 8, zero-zero-one-nine.”
“Zero-zero-nineteen? What calendar is that?” Marie asked.
“New Clavical Calendar,” Mateo answered surprisingly. “I didn’t know they had implemented it already. That was fast.”
“Yeah, we’ve been hopping worlds, hoping to somehow alter Cheyenne’s pattern, but it hasn’t worked,” Arcadia lamented. “We should have known. Our first attempt with Proxima Doma was a good guess, since their years are eleven days long, but coming here was stupid. Now, even if we wanna try something else, we can’t.”
“I’m sorry, Arcadia,” Leona said solemnly.
“This isn’t your fault,” Arcadia told her honestly. “It’s a shame you’ll probably never get to meet her. I don’t know which calendar you’ll be on now that you’re here. But since you are, are ya hungry? Vearden learned how to make Horace Reaver’s quiche.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Extremus: Year 62

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The Department Fixer. That’s what they call Tinaya now. The Resource Allocation Team was only the beginning. Well, the Forestry Department was the beginning of this new chapter in her life, but she didn’t realize it at the time. Since the RATs asked her to help them with their image problem, she has helped three other departments with their own issues. For the RATs, she first encouraged them to lean into their once-negative nickname. She conscripted a graphics designer to change their logo to a rat. She distributed materials about how great rats are in real life. Of course, the allocators aren’t actual rats, but that wasn’t the point. She wanted to make them look like a fun group of people who are in on the joke. She wanted to keep it light, and associate the department with something positive.
Next, she lobbied the government to relegalize teleportation for all with sufficient contribution scores. Not only were the civilians happy to receive new teleportation tech after all this time from the RATs, but it also served to increase Tinaya’s personal popularity. She wasn’t specifically trying to do that, but everyone knew that she was the one who finally made it happen, and they credited her for it appropriately. The fact that she accomplished it without wielding any real power was a testament to her value on the ship, and people were taking notice.
Immediately after this was done, the Civilian Engineering Corps asked for her help. These are different from the engineers that run Extremus. They manage inessential projects, such as remodeling quarters when changes are requested for a family’s living situation. They receive a lot of requests, but have to reject the majority of them for logistical reasons. They do lots of other things, though, which have nothing to do with the crew engineers. Most of the students who go to college to study engineering want to be on the crew, and when the slots fill up, a surprising number of them decide to pursue other interests. Even so, the CEC receives an excess of applications for employment, and has to make even more rejections. They don’t like doing this, and needed to expand their scope to new and original projects, which necessarily required raising their staffing limit. But that also meant figuring out how to get through all this red tape, which Tinaya was now quite familiar with. So she navigated it for them, and fixed that problem too.
Following that, Tinaya organized a Quantum Colony Tournament for the Recreation Department. It was not built as a player v. player game, so she had to devise an in-game competition from scratch. This meant that she planned everything in the real world, and in the virtual space. Her stint here was the shortest according to the calendar, but also the most time and labor intensive, so after it was over, she took a break from doing anything for a couple of weeks, and returned to the spa where Lilian’s brother welcomed her back warmly. When she was ready, she logged back into her account to find a couple dozen applications for her assistance. She did not create an official template for this process. Someone else did it for her, and dispersed it to the entire ship on her behalf. If she knew who it was, she might have scolded them for doing something like that without her permission, but honestly, it was making her life easier. The applications were clear, easy to read, and most importantly, easy to filter out.
There was only one application that she was willing to accept, which was for Captain Soto himself. She didn’t choose him because she liked him, because she doesn’t, but she wanted a challenge. That is becoming increasingly important to her; being challenged. Like the RATs, Captain Tamm too had an image problem, and even though it wasn’t strictly necessary for him to be well liked to do his job, it helped to have his crew respect him. He also needed help communicating with the civilian government. Tinaya was not a miracle worker, so he was never going to be as belovèd as Halan Yenant or Kaiora Leithe, but she did her best, and saw markèd improvement in the man. He still needs more work, but her obligation to him is now over. She’s not a saint either.
This morning, she’s woken up to only one application in her mailbox, which is weird, because she had five in there last night which she had yet to find time to review. They were somehow deleted, or perhaps rescinded? All of her maybes were gone now too. Perhaps whoever generated the application form for her in the first place still had access to them in the system. Hmm. Last year, she tried everything she could to locate the source, but was never able to, and she can’t think of anything that’s changed since her initial attempts. All she can do now is pretend that she was completely mistaken, and there was only ever one in here. Let’s see what it’s about. It’s from Arqut Grieves. This is the guy who always has to attend Tinaya’s meetings. Well, not all meetings, but the ones that could plausibly impact how the government is run.
A representative from the Office of the First Chair is required to be at such meetings, but it doesn’t always have to be the same person. Yet it has been for the last year and a half. Arqut is always the one, whether that means he volunteers every time, or someone else assigns him to Tinaya’s projects. She’s never asked him. And he’s never asked anything. He’s remarkably quiet. Before he took over the job ad hoc, a few others filled the same role, and they were very concerned about how this would impact the government, or rather specifically the First Chair themselves. He didn’t seem to care. He let her do whatever. He was so mysterious. What could he possibly want from her now?
The application itself is filled out in a funny way—read: incorrectly. It’s not sophisticated enough to know whether a given input field has been entered appropriately. The only requirement is that something be in every box. Next to NAME, he put the word Dear. Then next to DATE, he wrote Tinaya, and for the TIME, only a comma. The rest of the fields add up to what look like a standard freeform letter, each field handling the next two or three words until the DESCRIPTION box finishes out the rest of the body in what has finally become easy to decipher:

Dear Tinaya,

Request that you provide your assistance with the following project. This is top secret. Extremus exists in a constant state of danger of being destroyed, and a new plan has been put in place to ensure the continuity of our people in a dire emergency. It is paramount that you share nothing of what you read here today with anyone, nor anything we discuss later in regards to this matter. A fourth ship is being designed upon the direction, and at the discretion, of the civilian government, somewhere in secret on Extremus proper. This emergency ship will be run by a shadow crew. This crew will ultimately be privy to every development that the current captain, Soto Tamm is made aware of. They will recreate the decisions that the real crew makes, and also run parallel simulations that imagine new solutions to these real problems. Should the worst happen, and Extremus is destroyed, this shadow crew will break away, and restart the mission using what will probably be determined to be new parameters. Again, tell no one of what you’ve just learned. You have been selected as a candidate for the first captain of this crew on a temporary basis. Your job will be to lead the simulated ship for a short time, and use your experience to select the new captain, who will continue on for the duration of the next real captain’s shift. Please meet me in the Mirror Room at 16:15 to discuss details.

The EXPECTED START DATE was Thank you, and the EXPECTED END DATE was Arqut Grieves. This is highly irregular, and super suspicious. It sounds like a coup. It sounds like the government making plans to overthrow the crew, and take over the ship for themselves. She has to tell someone. She can’t just take this man’s word for it that this is just some kind of simulation. They’ve barely spoken, she can’t trust him. She can’t trust anyone, though. So who’s the closest option? The Bridgers? She rarely makes contact with her spy handler. She can’t go to the Captain, even though she does have a personal relationship with him now. She obviously can’t reach out to the First Chair either. Basically anyone in the government is a risk. But this Mirror Room meeting is not an option. The Council. The Council sucks, but she’s gotta do it. If it’s come to the point where they are her only option, though, then nothing else matters. Because if they’re dirty, then the whole ship is fucked.
It was then that she noticed that there was just a little bit more text, which she originally ignored as some kind of short disclaimer, or something, but that’s not what it says. It reads, THIS DOCUMENT UTILIZES EYE-TRACKING SOFTWARE THAT WILLPRINT. Tinaya hates paper today as much as she always did, but the law requires that she make hard copies of every accepted application, so she has a ream of the stuff for such purposes, which she predicts she will never get through completely. She’s grateful for it now, because after the application is done printing out, she finishes the fine text in the footer, which goes on to say, TRIGGER A SELF-DESTRUCT ONCE THE INTENDED RECIPIENT READS IT IN ITS ENTIRETY, OR AN UNINTENDED RECIPIENT BEGINS TO READ IT.
True to its word, the application disappears from the screen, and all traces of it are removed from the system. Like the origin of the application template itself, she’s unable to retrieve it, or find any proof that it ever existed, besides this hard copy. She makes ten more copies of the letter, and teleports all over the ship to hide them in secret places. Then she returns to her cabin to get dressed for her impromptu meeting. Whoever is engineering this coup isn’t going to get away with it...or they will indeed upon her failure, which is a distinct possibility. Either way, she has to try.
The council used to be a loosely defined collective of crewmembers and government officials who were only there to make sure that everyone was doing their jobs correctly. It was more of a committee than a council, and the level of power they wielded was limited to how much, or how little, respect that a given person that they were trying to control at a given time had for them. This has changed over the decades as members have been turned over to those with greater and further-reaching ambitions. Now they call it The Council with a capital C, and if they make a decision, it’s pretty much final. It can be challenged by others, but most of the people with any real chance of overturning their decision are already on the council anyway. Checks and balances are more of a joke at this point, but don’t tell them that, because they’re the only ones who don’t find it funny. They’re also all full-time members now, except for the Captain, First Lieutenant, First Chair, and Second Chair. All they do is hear complaints and make executive decisions, like a king in open court. At least this works in Tinaya’s favor, because she knows where they’ll be, so she won’t have to ask for them to convene.
Dreading doing it, she takes the long way ‘round with good ol’ fashioned walking, instead of teleporting straight there. Today is a good day; the line is not very long. There are about eight parties ahead of her who seek audience with the Council, and they all make way for Tinaya. She’s never tried this herself, but she commands a level of respect enjoyed by few others. Again, she’s not exactly itching to get there, but she hates waiting, even if it’s for something she doesn’t want to do. So she accepts their gracious gesture, and jumps to the front of the line. When it’s her turn, she walks into the room, and heads for the center platform. The proctor who watches the line steps up behind them, and whispers something to Council Leader Whatever-His-Name-Is. She never bothered to learn it, because she doesn’t care. Let’s just call him Cleader.
Cleader nods, and sighs as he’s turning his head back to face Tinaya. “Miss Leithe, what can we do for you today? What is so urgent that you had to skip the line?”
“What the proctor might not have told you,” Tinaya begins, “is that they offered. I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it, but refusing it would have been ruder.”
“Very well,” Cleader replies. “Proceed.”
Tinaya steps towards the dais. She places two hard copies of the suspect request form before Cleader, so they can pass them down each way. “I received a request for my assistance this morning in a most unusual manner. It deleted itself from the system as soon as I finished reading it, but I managed to print these out just in time. As you can see, I have been asked to serve—”
“That’s enough,” Cleader says to her dismissively. “I think you passed.”
“What? What did I pass?”
Cleader lifted his watch up to his mouth. “Teleport here at once.”
A second later, Arqut Grieves appears. “What is the about?” he questions.
“When did the message self-destruct?” Cleader asks Arqut.
Arqut checks his own watch. “Twenty-four minutes ago.”
“Who did you speak to about this before coming to us?” he now asks Tinaya.
“No one,” Tinaya answers truthfully. “I came straight here.”
“Why did it take you half an hour?” Cleader presses.
“Because I walked. I like to walk.”
Cleader purses his lips, and whispers something to the members on either side of him, which pass whatever message down the line. “Explain to her,” he orders Arqut.
“There is no secret shadow crew,” Arqut begins to tell Tinaya. “It was a loyalty test. We still need to verify your whereabouts after you opened the message, but I’m proud of you. You made the right decision, coming to the Council.”
“You should know, I hid more hard copies around the ship, so my location records will reflect that. But I promise, I spoke to no one.”
“That was smart,” he says nicely. He may actually be a decent guy, unlike the Council members.
“If I may,” Tinaya begins, “what was the point of this test?”
Arqut smirks. “Not yet, Tinaya. Not yet. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’. Your real applications have been restored to your inbox.” He winks, then disappears.