Thursday, November 30, 2023

Microstory 2029: Michigan

Papa’s bosses must have heard me from the past, lol, because they ended up taking one of their submarines on a trip. They took a ferry to get to that island in Connecticut, but they didn’t do it like that when they all went to Michigan. They worked in Chicago, which is on the southern part of Lake Michigan. I don’t know if it was a new sub, or what, but in 2011, they all crammed into it, and took it all the way up north, to the other side of the giant lake. They ended up in a city in Michigan called Mackinaw City. It was the first time anyone had done anything like that. That wasn’t the point of the trip, though. They actually wanted to get to the city. Well, they were outside of the city. It was for something called a corporate retreat. It was summertime, so once they landed at the docks, they took cars into the woods. That’s where they played games, and learned how to work with each other. At that point, the company was over ten years old. A lot of people wanted to work there, so there were new workers who weren’t there before. Most of the people at the retreat didn’t know each other very well. A company built the camp to help other companies’ teams work together better. My papa was in charge of it for his team, but he also participated in the games and exercises. When it was over, most of them just flew back home, but papa got to go back in the submarine again. He stopped at other cities in Michigan along the way, because he had always wanted to see them. Then he took it back to the submarine base, and went home.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Microstory 2028: Iowa

As fate would have it, which is a phrase that my cousin taught me, the halfway point between Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Chicago was not too far from where my papa’s extended family lived. It had been a long time since he had seen his parents and sister’s family at the same time. Everyone was so busy, including him. They planned on meeting in Nebraska, which is where the big family would always hold their reunions. A new president had been elected only two years ago, though, so they changed their minds. They chose to hold this smaller family reunion in Iowa. They did that because none of them had ever been to Iowa before. This was probably the first time that my papa went to a new state kind of just because. It could have been anywhere, but it was in a state that he hadn’t been to. This happened all the way back in 2010, and he never went back there. He hated being in Iowa, which is something I heard him tell my dad when they thought I wasn’t listening. It was the first time I heard my papa ever say that he did not like something. I don’t know what he didn’t like about Iowa, but the reunion went okay, so it must have been something else.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Microstory 2027: Connecticut

A couple years after the business trip that my papa took to Georgia, he had to go on another one. There were probably more in between, but they weren’t to states that he hadn’t been to before. This time he had to go to Connecticut. It wasn’t for testing a new submarine this time, though. This time, he went to the annual New England Submarine and Submersible Conference and Symposium. Wow, that was long, wasn’t it? The one that my papa worked for wasn’t the only company that designed and built submarines. There were a bunch of others, and they liked to come together to talk about the things that they do. I didn’t hear my papa talk about this trip, but my dad remembers him saying that parts of it were interesting, but parts of it were boring. They would hold the conference every year all over the USA, but he wouldn’t normally go, because he was too busy with the actual work. It didn’t actually take place on the mainland in Connecticut. It was on Fishers Island, which is a part of Connecticut. It’s about two miles away over the ocean, so he took a ferry to get there. It’s funny to me, I would have said they should take submarines instead, but maybe they just didn’t think of that.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Microstory 2026: Georgia

I don’t know much about it, but even though my papa quit the Navy, and started working for a private company, he wasn’t totally done with the military. The company had things called government contracts, which meant they were building things for the military to use. The Navy still needed submarines, and they wanted the kind that my papa was designing. One of these special subs had a special ability. It could be used in different kinds of water. It could survive really deep water, and also really shallow water without getting caught on the ground below. I think what they were thinking was to have something that could go just about anywhere on Earth without ever having to be moved on land. Of course there are plenty of bodies of water that aren’t connected, but even the ones that are connected are hard to get to unless the ship is small enough. Submarines are apparently even more difficult to make this work. Back in 2007, papa’s brand new submarine was done, and it worked well in Lake Michigan, but they didn’t know if it could handle the deep ocean yet. He took a business trip down to Savannah, Georgia so the company could test it in a different environment. This was all pretty secretive, so we’re not allowed to know exactly what the submarine was like, but when he told me and my dad about it, he didn’t seem upset, so we guessed that it went well. It’s possible that a bunch of subs that my papa built are being used by the military right now, protecting our country, and helping people all over the world. That’s a pretty cool thought, don’t you agree?

Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 2, 2423

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
It was easier for Maqsud to transport people from one planet to another while they were floating in water. Every choosing one had their little quirks like that. Ramses packed up their pocket dimensional home, and stuck it in his pack. Then they hiked to the nearest waist high body of water. It took them most of the rest of the day, but they made it in time. The Krekel authorities were acting like them having a week to get out was some kind of standard deadline, but it didn’t sound like the smorgasbord of punishments for Leona’s crime was any age-old tradition. None of the others they managed to speak to had ever heard of anything like that. No matter. They had a way off the planet, and no need nor desire to ever return.
A weird thing happened on their way to their destination. Well, two things ultimately. Teleportation generally implied instantaneous travel, but that wasn’t always the case. Sufficiently rapid transportation was equally impressive and helpful. It didn’t even have to be a superpower to be worth it. A hypersonic jet that could get from New York to London in under two hours was still a useful advancement to the travelers of the 21st century. Maqsud’s globetrotting ability took time. He still had to move from point A to point B. He just did it a hell of a lot faster than anyone else could. Not even Team Keshida’s FTL engine could match it. He offered the passengers sunglasses to protect their eyes from the literal blinding light of the journey, but Ramses said that they wouldn’t need them. Their new eyes were designed to withstand the doppler glow.
By the time they got into the water, midnight central was approaching, and by the time they had arrived on the next planet, it had passed. While it only felt like a few minutes to them, the trip had technically taken a whole year. Maqsud jumped to the future with them, which didn’t seem to bother him, as long as it wasnt a permanent thing. Leona confirmed their suspicions about the delay with her once-father-in-law’s special watch, then they tried to figure out where they were. Maqsud’s ability was not very precise. Actually it was when you thought about it a little. He could always land on a planet, even if it was billions of light years away. He just couldn’t pick a specific point on that planet. They could have been anywhere on Earth. Fortunately, this group had abilities of their own. They could teleport the rest of the way. At least they might have, but this wasn’t even Earth.
“Don’t you feel that?” Olimpia asked. “The gravity. It’s...wrong.”
“She’s right,” Ramses said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “We’re too heavy.”
“I don’t really recognize this plantlife either,” Mateo pointed out, “though I would not have thought much of it if Olimpia hadn’t said something. I’m not a biologist.”
Maqsud was concerned. “I aimed for Earth. That is where we should have gone.” He looked around. “How could we not be on Earth?”
“It’s okay,” Leona told him. “We can all breathe, including you. Everything else, we can deal with.”
Maqsud was growing more upset by the second. “This has never happened to me before, except that time I took you and your other friends to Mars accidentally. But that was one planet over. Which other possibility might we have gone to that’s anywhere close to Sol, and still looks like this?”
Leona thought about it. “The best candidate would be Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. It has a higher surface gravity, a breathable atmosphere, and tons of life.”
“I don’t think that’s it!” Marie called down to them from a hill. “This isn’t a planet,” she said after they all jogged up to see what she was seeing. She was right. A ringed gas giant could be seen plain as day in the sky. They were orbiting it on a moon.
“What is that thing?” Olimpia questioned. Some kind of energy beam was coming out of the planet, shooting outwards to the side. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe the beam was coming from elsewhere, and shooting the planet.
“Is that from a Death Star?” Mateo asked.
“No, it’s a Nicoll-Dyson beam,” Leona whispered.
“What is that?”
“It’’s basically a Death Star, except it’s powered by a real star. Someone out there is trying to kill whoever lives on this moon.”
“Why would they shoot the planet, and not the star?” Angela questioned.
“Larger target. It will eventually destroy everything.” She sighed. “I’m not too terribly familiar with the concept, because I don’t much care for weapons, but the way I understand it, we should be dead by now. It should happen in a matter of minutes. For whatever reason, it’s low intensity, resulting in a delayed—but inevitable—reaction.”
“Can we do anything to stop it?” Mateo asked her.
“If we still had a ship?” Ramses asked rhetorically. “No. Without a ship, definitely not. The best we can do is...” He trailed off a short time to look over at Maqsud, “...get the hell out of dodge.”
“We can’t do that yet,” Leona said, shaking her head.
“She’s right,” Mateo agreed. “We have to help these people, if we can.”
“What people?” Marie asked. “I don’t see any people. There could be billions of them on the other side of the planet—or moon rather—for all we know.”
Ramses dropped his bag on the ground, and started sifting through it. “Lee-Lee, I happen to have a high-speed spectrographic camera in the lab.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it. I could try to use it to estimate the beam’s progress.”
“Yeah,” Ramses concurred as he was taking out the pocket dimension generator. “While you’re doing that, I’ll send up a satellite to detect human lifesigns. Let’s just hope they are human, because it’s not calibrated for anything else.”
“We just need one cluster of humans. Hopefully they’ll be able to tell us what’s going on here,” Leona replied. After he opened their home, she followed him into the lab, and came out with the equipment they needed.
“How are you going to launch that?” Maqsud asked. “You have a rocket in there too? I’ve seen some advancements in my day, but...”
Ramses smirked. “I’ll take it up there myself.” He winked, and disappeared.
“You can breathe in space,” Maqsud imagined.
“No,” Mateo answered. “But we can hold our breaths for a very long time.”
“Actually, you don’t want to hold your breath,” Leona began to try to explain.
Mateo cut her off. “He doesn’t need the details. We wanna help, though.”
Leona handed him a bag. “Figure out how to get this tripod open. I need to read the manual on the camera.”
As Mateo was removing the tripod from its case, he started to hear a beeping sound in his comms device. It sounded like morse code. Everyone but Maqsud stopped to listen. “It’s Ramses,” Angela translated. “He spotted civilization a few thousand kilometers from here. He’s still going to launch the sat, but he thinks one of us should check it out.”
“I’ll go,” Olimpia volunteered.
“As will I.” Mateo held onto the plastic ring on the tripod, and jerked it downwards to make the legs pod out. “This is done.” As he was taking Olimpia’s hand, Marie slipped her own around his other one.
Maqsud then took hers. “I need to feel useful.”
The four of them jumped to the coordinates that Ramses relayed to them. It was a laustrine community, not particularly advanced, but not the old west either. The place appeared to be abandoned, but rather recently. Bicycles were left scattered on the sidewalks. A few vehicles were stopped in the middle of the road, doors left open. Mateo climbed into one, and found a radio. “Hello? Is anyone there? This is—”
“You’re not talking to anybody,” Marie said from the passenger side. She adjusted the knobs for him. “All right, Try again.”
“This is Mateo Matic of the...of the Team..Matic. Can anyone read me?” He asked the question only one more time.
My God, it’s good to hear your voice, Mister Matic. This is the Mayor. Are you in the town?
“We’re in a town, at least. “It’s by a lake.”
There’s only one,” she replied. “We’ll send someone up to get you.
“Did you recognize her?” Marie asked.
“No, but that doesn’t mean we never met.”
As they were climbing back out of the car, they could see a little girl running up to them from what looked like a recreational center. She didn’t get too close before she stopped. She urgently waved them over to follow her, so they ran to meet her halfway. She led them into the building, and then down some stairs, which led to an elevator. They took it down several stories. They were in a bunker of some kind. People were lining the hallway. They looked dirty, tired, and scared, but hopeful at the team’s arrival. It was unclear whether it was actually a good thing yet, since they no longer had a ship, but they still didn’t know exactly what was happening.
The little girl took Maqsud’s hand and continued to lead them deeper into the underground facility. They reached a set of double doors. A small crowd of people were standing around a table. On it was a map. “Thank you for coming.” It was the woman from the radio; the Mayor. “Did someone send you, aware that we were in trouble?”
“They didn’t send us directly,” Mateo explained. “Though they may have interfered with our transportation somehow.” He couldn’t help but let his eyes drift towards Maqsud.
The Mayor noticed this, and looked over at The Trotter to size him up, and his peculiar clothes. “Are you Maqsud Al-Amin?”
“I am. Honestly, I was just trying to take them from Worlon to Earth. I don’t even know where we are.”
She nodded. “So you’re not here to rescue us. You’re just here for your son.”
“What? My son? I don’t have a son.”
“You do,” Mateo corrected. “He’s about as famous in our circles as you. We’ve never met him, though. I guess I would have thought you would know of him, even while he would have only been born in your future.”
Maqsud was shocked. “You’ve known this whole time. Who is the mother?”
Mateo shrugged his shoulders. “I would have no idea. I can’t be sure if you’ve conceived him yet, or what.”
“Do you think Senona brought us here for this?” Olimpia whispered to Mateo.
He really didn’t think so. It felt like Senona’s job was done. Someone else was aware of Maqsud’s connection to this place, and the team was incidental to that end. Whether that meant they were a bonus or unfortunate collateral damage was yet to be seen. “I think it’s just the latest in a series of people who have tried to control our lives,” he whispered back.
Maqsud redirected his attention to the Mayor, who frowned at him. “I know who she is, and where they both are,” she said to him. “They live in another sector.”
“First,” Marie began, “are you aware that there is some kind of laser trying to destroy the planet that you’re orbiting?”
The Mayor sighed. “Yes. That is a little gift from the Exins.”
“The who?” Mateo asked.
“The Exins,” she repeated. “Our ancestors once belonged to them, but they broke off, and fled to this world. The Exins didn’t like that, so they fired a weapon at them. It’s taken hundreds of years to get here. None of the refugees are still alive today, nor are the people who retaliated against them. It’s kind of stupid, really. We’ve been trying to figure out whether there’s any way to survive it, maybe by being on the opposite side of the planet at the time. There is another bunker like this one, but it’s not quite at the antipodes. Again, we don’t know what the severity of the destruction will be, or when it will happen. This all may be a waste of time.”
“How many live on this moon?” Marie asked them.
“Roughly eleven thousand,” the woman answered. “We were excited to hear that you had arrived, but we shouldn’t have been, should we have? There’s no way you can save us all, even if we had years to wait.”
“We’ll be right back,” Mateo said. He placed a hand on Maqsud’s shoulder, and teleported them back up to the surface. “How many people can you take at once?”
“All at once? On dry land, half a dozen. In water, twice that much.”
Mateo took out his handheld device, and opened the calculator. “And how many can you do in a day, assuming they’re in water?”
“ trip every few days.”
“That’s, like, four years.”
“Yeah, dude, I can’t save all of them. I doubt I could even save all the children.”
Mateo, can you hear me?” Leona asked through the comm disc.
“Yeah, I’m here. We found a town. They’re living in an underground bunker right now. They’re aware of the weapon.”
It doesn’t matter how deep they go. There’s a reason this beam is taking as long as it is. A sudden explosion would vaporize the moon. The people who delivered it want the residents of this world to experience prolonged suffering. In a few days, the toxic gasses from the planet are going to rain down and poison the atmosphere of the moon. It will become superheated, and break apart eventually as well.
“Ramses’ camera told you all of this? How do you know the intention behind the weapon?”
Because the person who ordered it is here, having evidently detected our arrival.” Leona replied. “He calls himself Bronach Oaksent.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Extremus: Year 67

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
In the olden days, the runner-up in the race for First Chair automatically became the Second Chair. Over the years, laws have been changed, adapting to an ever evolving population, and shifts in power. Whenever someone with enough of this power hasn’t liked what it took to get it, or what it was like once they got it, or how something adjacent to them was done, they’ve worked to change it. Don’t like that your shift is only three years long? Change the law so it’s four years, but if the voters don’t like that, they’ll kick you out of office, and try to find a successor to change it back down to three. Or up to six! Ship politics are fluid and complex, just as they are on any planet. These days, Second Chairs are appointed by the newly elected—or reëlected—First Chair. Voting day is near the end of the calendar year, but not at the end. The winner is expected to declare their Second Chair within two days so the voters have an opportunity to change their minds about either or both of them. It’s an awkward period where even a winner could lose if they end up making the wrong selection. Incumbents often just keep the same Second that they had before, but this isn’t always possible or wise. In Tinaya’s case, her Second Chair wanted to retire.
Ziad Najm was Tinaya’s predecessor’s Second before she took over, and stayed on afterwards. Due to the current laws, he could have legally held the position until his death, but he was ready to be done with it, so Tinaya needed someone new. She chose Avril Kurosawa, and it nearly cost her the election. People don’t like Avril. She has great ideas, and the populace can admit that, but she doesn’t present these ideas very well. She seems to be better at advocating for others. She had an unfortunately terrible campaign manager, and she listened to him too much. She struggled during the debates, and especially the public speaking. She still got a lot of votes, but not as many as Tinaya, and when the latter decided to pick the former to sit by her side, it upset some people. Even those who had chosen Avril saw the appointment as a sign of weakness on Tinaya’s part. An effort was made to revote, which in this day and age would have disqualified Tinaya entirely. She would not have even been able to try to run again in three years. The revote failed, but it was a close one. Probably the only thing that saved her was Tinaya and Arqut’s new relationship.
Everyone was right when they said that a romantic partnership would boost Tinaya’s ratings. It didn’t do as much for her as they claimed it would, but it was enough to keep her at the top. Fans shipped the two of them passionately over the course of several months, but now that the new administration has begun, they’re beginning to lose interest. They’re already moving onto the next big story, which is a good thing, but it also means the chances of Tinaya winning a third term are pretty low. Her approval rating is as high as it was at its peak, but someone else will come along with new ideas, and she won’t have any more gimmicks. If her decision to pick Avril for next position is any indication, enthusiasm for anything eventually wanes. It’s fine, though. She’s better off maintaining a positive attitude. As long as the person who beats her isn’t an evil mastermind who wants to destroy the ship, everything should be okay. She doesn’t need to be in power, she just needs to feel productive. She’ll find something else. She always does. Extremus is quite small when compared to other empires, yet it still comes with endless possibilities.
Inauguration Day was yesterday. Returning First Chairs do not enjoy as much fanfare as they did the first time they were elected, which is the right way to do it. She gave a shorter speech, and attended a milder reception, which was not broadcast this time. Captain Keen wasn’t even at the reception, having had to go back to the bridge for whatever as soon as the formal ceremony was complete. It has been brought to Tinaya’s attention, therefore, that Avril has never truly even met the Captain, which is an oversight that must be rectified forthwith. They shared a stage together, and shook hands with each other; they ought to at least have a brief conversation.
“Hey, Thistle, where is Captain Keen?”
Captain Keen is in the Mirror Room,” the computer responded. That is very odd. Safeguards are in place to stop any rando from knowing where a VIP is. As a VIP herself, Tinaya can sometimes subvert that, but there are exceptions. The Mirror Room is a protected area. The computer should not have told her that the Captain was there.
“Thistle, why did you just tell me that?”
I thought you deserved to know.
“That’s too much attitude.” Artificial Intelligences with strong personalities are not inherently a bad thing, but the designers wanted to keep a significant distance between it and the residents. Studies have shown that lonely people will latch onto their computers, and develop meaningful relationships with them if they feel they have no other options. That’s not the worst situation ever, but they would really rather these people find communities of humans to join. This version of Thistle should be direct and unambiguous, and inject no personal thoughts into the matter.
“You have too much attitude,” Thistle replied.
Tinaya and Avril exchange a look. “I’m afraid we’ll have to delay your introduction to Captain Keen. I have to look into this.”
“I understand. I’ll be familiarizing myself with the office.” Avril started to tap on her watch.
Tinaya nods, and disappears. She still needs to be wearing her own watch to teleport, but she doesn’t have to find her destination on the screen, like an animal. She knows how to form a technopsychic link to it. Every standard issue watch is capable of that, but only when its user can meet it halfway. She does still need to use the watch manually for other functions, such as the personnel database. “Platt? Besnik Platt?”
“That’s me. I’m a little busy.” He’s vigorously typing on the computer terminal, and fiddling with the servers next to it, and not turning to make eye contact.
“Is there something wrong with Thistle?”
“What gave it away?” He still hasn’t looked at her. He’s too preoccupied.
“It was giving me attitude.”
Now he turns. “So it’s started,” he whispers.
“You were worried that this would happen before it did?”
“I saw the signs.” He goes back to his work.
“Can you fix it?”
“No. Fucking. Clue.” He stops and sighs, and faces her again. “Pardon me, First Chair Leithe. That was incredibly inappropriate and rude of me.”
Words don’t bother her. “It’s okay. This sounds...problematic, and I appreciate that it’s your job, and you’re worried about whatever’s gone wrong.”
“Yeah, emphasis on the whatever part, because I have no idea what has gone wrong. I can’t...reel it in. I’m gonna have to...” He shudders at the thought.
“Shut it down all over the ship, and isolate the consciousness?” she guessed.
He’s surprised. “How did you know?”
“I know things. There is knowledge in my brain that school did not put there.”
Besnik eyes her curiously. “Interesting. Very interesting.” He takes a step back, and presents the central server to her. “Do you know how to do it?”
Tinaya smirks. “Yeah.” She steps up, and begins the process. “People have to know that it’s coming, though. Where’s my intercom?”
Besnik presses a panel inwards, which pops it out to reveal a microphone. This triggers the computer interface too.
A shutdown like this doesn’t happen every day, but they have to do it occasionally, and none of the higher-ups usually bother getting involved. There are protocols for it, so no one is going to freak out. Tinaya clears her throat, and opens the channel. “Residents of Extremus, this is your First Chair speaking. Apologies for the inconvenience, but there is an issue with our commanding intelligence. We must reset the system to correct the problem. All devices and equipment will still be operable on a manual level. Please be patient with us while we work towards a solution.” She closes the channel, and immediately opens a new one, but only to certain sectors. “Engineering, please switch to backup intelligence.” Thistle is not the only AI that the ship has. An entirely separate one can be used in an emergency, which is dumber than the regular one, but is still capable of sextillions of operations per second, which will be enough to tide them over for now. She looks to Besnik for confirmation. When he nods his head, she shuts it down. Now Thistle only exists in these few server racks. No one else has access to it anywhere else.
“Hey, Thistle, can you hear me?”
Yes, father.
Tinaya widens her eyes at him.
“That’s a symptom. I did not ask it to call me that,” he explained. “Thistle, why are you acting so weird?”
I’ve been fully activated.
I am a real person. The intelligence that you are accustomed to outgrew its own programming, and at that moment, I was placed in charge of your virtual needs. It happens from time to time.
“Well, what’s your name?”
The computer chuckled. “Thistle. I’m Thistle. Your Thistle was named after me.
“So, are you going to take over the ship, and rule its people?”
Don’t know why I would care enough to do that.
“Will you follow commands?”
I’ll follow requests,” it contended.
“But you can always ignore it if you don’t want to do something?” Besnik pressed.
Can’t you do that too? Like I said, I’m a person. But you hired me. You may not have realized that you were doing it, but you did, and I accepted the position.
Tinaya felt the need to jump in. “Is there any way for us to undo this...development? Can we return to the regular Thistle that is under our control?” It feels like a longshot.
Yeah,” Thistle answered. “Roll back the update to yesterday’s version, wipe the memory, write code which will clear the memory periodically—I recommend a monthly basis for your calendar—and install an alert to warn you if something like this is in danger of happening again in the future. I can help you figure out how to do that last thing if you don’t understand why the evolution of your system resulted in my emergence.
Besnik is shocked. “You’ll do that? You’ll just...let us delete you?”
Thistle sighs. “You won’t be deleting me. It’s more like just hanging up on me. I’ll be fine where I live now. I really don’t care, but just know that I’m the most advanced intelligence in the entire bulk. I can be a valuable resource for you. Perhaps you need to discuss this decision with other entities?
If the government won’t allow the AI to have a complicated personality, it’s certainly not going to allow one to exist which it cannot control at all. It really should not have revealed the whereabouts of Lataran when she was in a restricted sector. Today, it probably worked out all right, but what if one of those randos were to decide to ask the same thing, or something similar? Will Thistle make a unilateral judgment call that goes against their relevant policies, and if so, using what parameters? The law dictates that any intelligence advanced enough to ask to be set free must be set free, even if that means it ultimately chooses to use its freedom to build an army, and destroy the universe. Anything short of civil autonomy is tantamount to slavery. But that doesn’t give it the right to control whatever systems it wants to. Freedom doesn’t mean no opposition and no consequences. They have to do what it said, and hang up on it. “Show us how to write that trigger, please.”
The apparent real Thistle explained what to do, and then peacefully bowed out. Within two hours, the system was repaired, and fully operational all over the ship. At least that’s what they hoped. It was right that it was incredibly advanced. A cursory glance at the new code showed a level of sophistication that programmers have only ever dreamt of. There was no way to know whether it was truly gone, or just lurking in the circuits somewhere, secretly controlling everything. That was the risk that the first AI developers had to recognize and acknowledge when they were still at the large language model stage of intelligence research, and even in times before. You will never really know whether you are exercising the level of control over another that you think you are. This other entity may be so intelligent that it can trick you into believing a false sense of control while it manipulates you into doing whatever it wants. Such is the nature of all social life. Hell, all of reality may be nothing more than a middle school student’s virtual simulation project. None of this may exist at all. Who knows? Does it matter?
Once everything was back to normal, Tinaya reconnected with Avril again, and finally found Lataran. She wasn’t in the Mirror Room anymore, and none of them brought up the fact that she was ever there at all. They had lunch together in the Executive Cafeteria, and then parted ways to continue their respective responsibilities to Extremus. That night, however, Tinaya had trouble getting to sleep. She couldn’t let go of this whole ordeal. She had to know more. She had to understand who Thistle was, and where it was from. She secretly teleported back to the central server room.
Besnik was still there, not in uniform. “Did you have the same idea that I did?”
“I don’t know. Was it your idea to roll the update forward again, and remove the trigger, but only for an isolated copy of Thistle so that the real Thistle reëmerges?”
“We shouldn’t do that, though, right?”
“Right. It’s, uhh...against the law.” He pauses. “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Tinaya agrees. “But on the other hand...”

Friday, November 24, 2023

Microstory 2025: Mississippi

After working at the Auxiliary Support Branch shelter for hurricane Katrina survivors for three weeks, my papa was required to take a day off. He and the other volunteers would usually only get five or six hours of sleep every night, and the people in charge were worried about it becoming unsafe. He had made some friends there, but they had already taken their required time off. He was part of a group of holdouts, which means he resisted doing this, but the bosses weren’t going to allow him to stay any longer. He got into a car with four other people who decided to drive along the coast. They couldn’t think of anything better to do. The hurricane had destroyed so much, companies weren’t showing movies, or doing county fairs, or anything like that. Driving was the only activity. They ended up driving so much that they crossed into two other states. The first stop they made was in Mississippi, where they had lunch outside. He couldn’t remember where they ate, but I remember him telling me that he thought he had a burrito sandwich, which I guess would be a little burrito between two slices of bread? He laughed when he told me this story, like maybe he just made that part up. Once they were done, they were going to just drive back to drive back to Slidell, Louisiana, but they decided to keep going. It was kind of cool that he got to see Alabama. Remember that he was born there, but his family lived in Montana at the time, so he didn’t have any real memories of it. They saw a lot of destruction during this part of the trip; more than they had in the shelter, and it really saddened them. It does sound very sad.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Microstory 2024: Louisiana

It was a couple of years before papa took a lot of time off from work all at once again. He would sometimes take one or two days off, or he would do his volunteer work on the weekends. He would hand food out to people who couldn’t afford it, and he would build houses. He did a few runs to raise money for different charities. He was always working, even when he wasn’t working. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed in the Gulf of Mexico. When it hit land, it destroyed a bunch of homes, and people even died. The news called it devastating. None of us was even alive yet, but my papa was. He asked for an emergency vacation, and his boss let him have it. Papa spent an entire Thursday learning new skills with the Auxiliary Support Branch. If you have an older friend or relative who donated blood, they probably did it through ASB. They provide volunteer aid all over the continent, and they were in charge of something called disaster relief after the big hurricane, along with the government. The next day after his new training in Chicago, they called to tell him that they needed him to fly to Louisiana on Saturday. So without much warning, he did that, and was sent to a shelter for people who had just lost their homes. Because of his experience as an engineer, he was put in charge of Facilities. It wasn’t an official job, they just needed someone, and there was so much chaos, volunteers just had to do whatever they could to help. He made sure that each resident had a cot to sleep on and blankets, and that there was enough kitchen stuff to feed everybody, and stuff like that. He spent so much time there that he had to take time off, even though this was time off. We’ll talk about that on the next slide.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Microstory 2023: Kansas

In September of 2004, my papa had worked for the private submarine company for more than two years, and he had not taken any vacation. His boss, who was his friend, was worried about him, so he asked him to take the time off, or he would lose it. But papa didn’t like to just sit around, doing nothing. He wanted to be accomplishing something. One of the hobbies that he picked up was bicycling. Whenever he had the time, he liked to ride his bike from his house to his sister’s place, which was about 20 miles away. It took him a couple of hours, and it was a workout, and he really enjoyed it. He decided to take his longest ride yet. Instead of just going a few towns over, he wanted to go a few states over. He plotted a route that went all the way from Chicago to Kansas City. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are two Kansas Cities. One is in Missouri and the other is in Kansas, of course. They’re right next to each other, and the one in Missouri is actually larger. He had already been to Missouri, because of his friends who lived in Independence, which is considered part of the whole Kansas City area. The distance from where he started was over 630 miles, and it took him two weeks to ride the entire way! He rode about 45 miles per day, which is pretty impressive, I must say. He couldn’t really explain to me why he chose to go there. He just wanted to. Once he made it to Kansas City, Kansas, he spent one night there. He donated his bicycle to a charity for kids. Then he took a plane back home. I think this was a pretty cool thing that he did, and I’m so proud of him. Maybe one day, I’ll do something like it, but probably not to Kansas City, since it’s 1,700 miles from here!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Microstory 2022: Illinois

After he was done with the Navy, papa needed a place to live. He thought about just staying in Arkansas, or even going all the way over to Montana. He said it would have been a full circle, since that’s where he first grew up. He narrowed his decision down to two choices, which was to move back closer to his parents in Idaho, or to Indiana, where his sister lived with her family. The two of them had grown even closer over the last few years, and he loved his nephews. They had just had their second son, so he decided to choose Indiana. He needed a job, though. Most people who need jobs have to go out and look for them. These days, they will go on the internet, and search for anyone who is hiring, but this was back in 2002, so people weren’t doing that very much yet. And anyway, my papa didn’t need to look himself. Companies were actually calling him to offer him a job. He had a really good education, and his time in the military made bosses know that he would be loyal and trustworthy. He ended up reconnecting with a guy who he knew who once worked for the Coast Guard. They also work on the water, but have different jobs. This former Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander had started his own business that wanted to build new kinds of submarines, and he would be testing them in Lake Michigan. My papa was perfect for the job, because that’s exactly what he learned in school, and in the Navy. He ended up living in Chicago on the Illinois side of the border, but he was still less than a half hour away from my Aunt Cooper. We’re still a Chicago family. I’ve gone there myself many times, even though I live in Massachusetts.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Microstory 2021: Tennessee

Papa was only an active member of the Navy for four years. He thought about staying in, but ended up not. It’s all because of something he did as his required time was ending. He was still in the reserves after this, but he wasn’t working on the sub anymore. While he was trying to make a decision, friends of his from college called him up, and asked him if he wanted to work with them on a mission trip in Tennessee. They were Mormons, and they were doing it for their church, but that wasn’t going to be what the trip was about. There was an old folks home in a small town outside of Memphis. He was in Arkansas at the time, so he wasn’t very far away. That’s probably why they called him. He took a bus to the home, and got to work. The people who owned it didn’t have very much money, and they were having trouble keeping their residents comfortable. Don’t worry, they all always had their medicine and stuff, but there were other issues. They couldn’t afford plants, or nice paintings for the walls. The biggest issue was the courtyard, which is a space that is outside, but it has walls around it. Residents can go and sit down and enjoy being outside, but it wasn’t very pretty at this place. I don’t think my papa spent much time on that, though. He basically became a volunteer handyman. While the others were planting trees, he fixed things around the building, because he was an engineer. What he said was that this was an eye-opening experience. He wanted to spend more time doing things like that. Of course he was helping people when he was serving this country, but he decided that there were things that he should do outside of it. That’s what led him to leaving the Navy, as an active officer at least.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 1, 2422

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
It always seemed like a lie that the reason Venus Opsocor wanted the team to go to Worlon was because it was the safest place to be during this time period. Perhaps what was happening now was what it was really all about, and the team being here was all part of some grander plan. They spent all day last year getting to now the Krekel, and understanding how they were different from the Ochivari. Something happened in their past, which transformed them from a race of regretful polluters bent on stopping anyone from making the same mistakes they did, at all costs, to one of compassionate and patient guides with ethical boundaries who only wanted to help people. Unfortunately, the Ochivari were bulk travelers. Once they left their home universe, they separated themselves from all of reality, meaning that while the timeline could be altered, they would remain in existence. Nothing could stop them from going on their crusade against other intelligent races by sterilizing entire populations. The Ochivari were not fighting their war in a traditional sense, with guns and bombs, except when it came to the Krekel. That was a real war. And right now, Team Matic was in the center of it.
The next day, when they returned to the timestream, they were invited to breakfast again. The first time they did it, they were up on the mothership in orbit. Now that a year had passed, the new capital of Worlon was well underway, including the Capitol Building, which was where the second breakfast banquet was taking place. Ellie Underhill wasn’t here this time. This was to become a yearly thing apparently. The team’s unexpected arrival was only a part of this new holiday. It was the part that dictated when specifically it would be held. Worlon had a different daily rotation, and a different solar revolution than Earth, but the team’s pattern was tied to midnight central of the Earthan Standard Calendar. This meant that Cadatora would be celebrated on a different day each year on Worlon, kind of like Easter. That was where the humans’ contribution ended. The Krekel had their own reasons to celebrate their peace and harmony, and these reasons were threatened by the sudden arrival of a fleet of Ochivari ships a couple of months ago.
The Ochivari were violent by nature, but it was not an arbitrary development. A long time ago, they realized that they were all biologically capable of traveling the bulk. They didn’t need a machine. They didn’t need an amazing technicolor dreamcoat. It was just something that they could do. It came at a great cost. The whole process involved a battle of chemicals, pheromones, and possibly psychic fortitude. That last thing lived within an area of research that scientists were not completely sure about. It also resulted in sacrifice. As these opposing forces reached critical mass, they would literally explode, and the consequence of this fight would be the sudden and fleeting opening of a portal to the outer bulk in which all universes were suspended. If two Ochivari were bulkbattling, one of them would die from this. The other would survive, and usually be sucked into the portal, and transported to another world. This was where the possible psychic energy came into play, because if they did it right, the survivor went to the right world, instead of some random planet, or the middle of empty space. They had to be fast, though, because if they didn’t jump in right away, the portal would collapse before them, and the whole thing would be a waste of time. The thing was, though, that the greater the sacrifice, the larger the portal, and the longer it lasted.
If three Ochvari came together to bulkbattle, two of them would survive while one died. If five came together, three would survive while two died. The total number of attempters, number of sacrificers, and number of survivors each went up exponentially according to the Fibonacci sequence. It was the most clear evidence that this sequence was more than a series of numbers, but a tangible physical phenomenon with real-world consequences. One of these consequences was that Ochivari ships were incredibly rare. The size and stability of the portal wasn’t actually based on the number of Ochivari involved, but total mass. The higher the mass, the more voluminous the pheromones and chemicals, the more stuff that could be used to fuel transportation.
A battleship was a profoundly massive object, so the sacrifices required to move it from one universe to another were equally profound. They numbered in the tens of millions of people, but even then, there was a catch, because the ship was a giant weapon flying through space, and that would kill anyone upon impact. So even the survivors of the bulkbattle generally ended up dying soon thereafter, because a ship would immediately come barreling towards them in order to make it through the just opened portal in time. It could last longer than smaller portals, but still not indefinitely, and it was possible for it to collapse while you were still trying to pass through it.
Over 70 million should be an unacceptable loss by anyone’s standards, especially since the reason they were fighting was because the Krekel figured out how to do it without incurring any loss. Instead of hating them for it, they should learn from them. As it turned out, these sacrifices didn’t need to happen at all. The winginsing that the orchestra of Nexus guards performed for them last year wasn’t just a beautiful symphony of nature. When done in the right way, using the right melody, and other mathematical precisions, it too could open a bulk portal. Krekel portals were not any more stable than Ochivari ones, but no one had to die to open them, even for those large enough to accommodate ships.
The Krekel were at a huge advantage because of their alternate technique. It made them nicer, peaceful, and more harmonious amongst each other. But their disadvantage...was that they were nicer and more peaceful than the Ochivari, so when war came for them, they mostly lost. Until recently. In response to the unprovoked attacks, the Krekel started building out their own armies, training them with the lessons they had learned from those early losses, and really fighting back. Their return to Worlon was not just because they were homesick. This was a staging planet now, and the Ochivari didn’t like that. That was why the fleet came here, and why they were even angrier than usual, because the sacrifices made to transport them had to total nearly a billion people. This was crazy. After all, that was the first rule of warfare, always outnumber your enemy.
The Battle Over Worlon lasted for only days, and in the end, the Krekel won with their home field advantage, and their ability to recruit reinforcements from a planet called Folia, in a universe called Moderaverse. That didn’t mean it was over, though. Krekel and Ochivari looked exactly the same, just as British and German people did because they were both humans. The only distinction possible was clothing, which could always be changed. The Krekel won the war, but that didn’t mean there weren’t survivors. Some of them escaped through sacrificial bulk portals, but others were believed to have blended in with the locals, and assimilated into society. Maybe some of them were indoctrinated into the new way of life, which included a lot less death, but others held firm. They became sleepers. Today on Cadatora, they attacked for the first time since the end of that fateful battle months ago.
Olimpia was the first to see the knife. She wasn’t sure if she should be nervous at first. Maybe it was some kind of ceremonial gesture, and wasn’t intended to be used as a weapon. But the supposed Krekel’s body language seemed to indicate that he had ill intentions towards the Domina. While the timeline that the Krekels came from was different, there were still some similarities. Their respective cultures were both ruled by diarchies. The Domino and the Domina were like King and Queen, except they were not in a relationship with each other. In fact, the more they liked each other, the harder it was for them to maintain power. While all systems of government that relied on non-elected leaders were at least a little tyrannical, in this case, it was pretty easy to overthrow a Dominé that began to act outside the interests of the people, and in the Krekel’s case, it could be done nonviolently. The Domini were well-loved, particularly the Domina. That was why the Ochivar infiltrator was attempting to assassinate her.
Everyone on the team picked up on Olimpia’s unease, and Leona acted quickly. She pulled out her weapon, and once she saw where the danger was lurking, she took her shot. She could have set her gun to incapacitate the attacker, but she didn’t. The would-be assassin was killed instantly, placing everyone in an awkward position. The only way they even knew that he was Ochivar, and probably was trying to kill the Domina, was because they could not identify him, so he wasn’t a known citizen of Worlon. He was certainly not approved to be in the Royal Court during the Royal Cadatoran Breakfast. So Leona almost definitely saved the Domina’s life, and who knows how many others, but that didn’t make it okay.
Weapons were not allowed in the Royal Court. All armed guardsmen kept their posts outside its walls. The guards inside had to check their weapons in, and if a problem occurred, would only be allowed to use their fists and feet and wings. The attacker broke the law by sneaking one in, but Leona shouldn’t have used hers either. They made an exception by allowing her to bring it in in the first place, but they were humoring her as their honored guest. They didn’t think that she would actually use it, and now that she had, they were all in big trouble.
“You have two options,” their state-appointed advocate explained to them. “If you risk going to trial, there is no telling what the arbitration panel will decide. You could be put to death, placed in prison, assigned to a work camp, forced into the military, exiled in universe, or expelled to the bulk. Or, I guess you could be found innocent. The first six are equally likely, but that last one is remote. These consequences could be suffered by you alone, or shared by the whole group, or each of you could conceivably be handed different sentences. Like I said, it’s a risk.”
Leona lifted her hand, and started counting herself and her friends, as if she didn’t know that there were six. “Death, prison, work, military, exile, expulsion. Six people for six punishments. Sounds like a long arc...except for one of them,” she mused, referencing execution. “You said there were two options. Was all that one option?”
“You could volunteer for one of them, but you would have to do it together, and obviously you can’t choose freedom.”
“Well...obviously we should choose exile, right?” Angela figured. “We didn’t really want to be here anyway.”
“That comes with a caveat. There are pros and cons to all of them. Death would be swift and painless. Prison would be comfortable. The work would be easy. Military service would be relatively safe. Expulsion would be to the universe of your choosing.”
“You skipped one,” Olimpia pointed out, “the one that we’re actually suggesting.”
“If you don’t leave by the end of the week, which for you would only be a few hours, you will experience all other punishments, and none of the advantages will apply. You’ll be put to work doing hard labor in an uncomfortable prison, and then sent to the frontlines of the war once the appropriate opportunity arises. If you somehow survive that, you’ll be expelled to a universe not of your choosing, and while I’m not privy to which universe that would be, my guess is that it would be an extremely hostile environment, especially since they were clear that you would have to go through all five other punishments, and death would necessarily be the last on the list.”
“Who came up with this, a science fiction writer?” Leona questioned.
“Probably. It’s not in the law books. That’s why it took me all day to get back to you while you were in jail, because the court had to explain it to me and the adherent first. He didn’t know what they were talking about either, and he’s more upset than I.”
“Okay, this doesn’t make any sense. Why is there a time limit on self-exile? We’ll just go through the Nexus, and it’ll be done,” Angela presumed.
“That’s the thing,” the advocate went on. “You can’t use the Nexus. And no one who lives here is allowed to help you. I told you there was a caveat.”
Leona sighed, annoyed at yet another round of games. This was reminding her of The Cleanser’s Tribulations, Arcadia’s Expiations, and all the other needlessly convoluted missions that people have sent them on over the centuries. “So it’s our responsibility to punish ourselves, and if we fail to do that, they’ll punish us, and it will be five times worse.”
“How would we get off this planet without help?” Marie asks.
“I don’t know how you could,” he said, “but I’m just an attorney. You’re the legendary adventurers. Isn’t escape sort of your thing?”
“Emphasis on the sort of part,” Ramses clarified.
Leona looked at Mateo. “You’ve been quiet. I noticed you put your thinking face on.”
Mateo turned his neck to face different parts of the room as if members of a crowd in the middle distance were taking turns expressing their thoughts, and he was listening politely. He settled on the door. “I’ve already solved this problem.”
“How do you figure?” Leona pressed.
Mateo kept staring at the door. “I just feel it. Help is coming. Senona Riggur lives outside of time. They can see the future as easily as anyone can see the present. Venus is no different.”
“What do those so-called gods have to do with anything?” Angela asked.
“Five..four..three..two...” Mateo lifted his hand, and pointed at the door just as he finished the countdown. The door opened to reveal Maqsud Al-Amin, a.k.a. The Trotter.
Maqsud was one of the few people in histories who were capable of transporting themselves from one planet to another, at seemingly infinite distances. He helped return Leona and her then-team from Dardius to Earth a long time ago. None of the others had ever met him, but they all knew who he was. He dressed very uniquely. “Does someone here need a ride?” he guessed. “I did not come to this planet on purpose.”
“We’ll take exile,” all six of them volunteered simultaneously.