Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 2444

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Now that they had tested the refurbished reframe engine from a safe distance, it was time to test it while on board. They would continue to monitor the machine to make sure it held up, but that was something that they did every time they used it. They were just paying extra close attention in case there was a temporal component to the repairs. Perhaps ongoing stress would cause the nanofractures to reopen. They would never be completely safe, but then again, they never were at all in this line of business.
The speed of a ship equipped with this kind of technology was limited to roughly 707 times the speed of light, which means that they would always be able to travel a distance of 707 light years during their interim year. Making it back to the stellar neighborhood would take them 23 years, which for the team, was about three weeks. That was doable, but they were too busy for that. For one, they had to find a place to drop off Korali, and the rest of the staff of Ex-467, who nearly died due to their interference, and would have without their intervention. They needed a new place to live. It had to be nice and safe, but also had the chance of returning them to whatever worlds they originally came from, or just wanted to go to now. Korali said that the space station had a manifest, but she didn’t have a copy of it, because why would she? Perhaps someone in the Subdimensional Crucible happened to have it on them, but they could not interact with those people yet. Not until they were released would that be possible.
“Well, I’m not sure if I should say,” Korali began cryptically.
“Why wouldn’t you say it?”
“It’s dangerous,” Korali answered. “Well, I don’t mean there are monsters running around, or something, but as enemies of the state, you would not be welcomed there.”
“They don’t know who we are,” Ramses reminded them. He transformed himself into the likeness of 20th and 21st century actor, Misha Collins.
“That’s true,” Korali admitted, but she was still reluctant.
“It’s just an idea,” Leona said encouragingly. “We don’t have to take it, but we need to know what it is, so we have our options.”
“It’s Ex-18118,” Korali said.
“That’s not on my list,” Ramses said, pulling his handheld device out to check. “Plus, it breaks the three-digit convention.”
“You probably don’t have Ex-403 or Ex-404 on your list either,” Korali explained. “Wherever you got your intel it was probably from an ordinary citizen. Loyalists like I was have special knowledge. Ex-18118 is for Rest and Relaxation. On the occasion that we’re given leave from our duties, like between assignments, we can take it on Ex-18118. Regular people live there to support our needs, like vendors and sex workers, but the majority of the population are people like me who need a little time off to recharge.”
“So everyone there would hate us if they found out who we were,” Mateo figured.
“Then it’s the perfect place,” Leona decided. “No one will be looking for us. Everyone will literally have their guards down, and if it’s a hub for loyalists, they probably come from all over the Corridor, which means that we shouldn’t have to worry about people wondering why they don’t recognize us.”
“They still may ask you where you’re from,” Korali clarified. “You’ll need to know how to answer that question.” She sighed. “I would recommend Ex-420 or Ex-69. No one will ask any more questions if you say that, not even people who have worked at either of those places. It’s just not something you talk about. You’ll need to know what to wear, and how to act, though.”
Korali showed Ramses where Ex-18118 was. It actually wasn’t too far from Ex-42, which again, no longer mattered. They could cross the span of the entire Goldilocks Corridor in a day from their perspective. Still, they were considering going there next. Before they engaged reframe speeds, she described the Ex-420 uniforms, which literally had an image of a marijuana leaf on them, so that was fun to program into the industrial synthesizers. While those were working, she taught them how 420 staff members behaved, which was odd, to say the least. They were hardened and imposing, but also high all the time, because they were around so much smoke? It was confusing to learn, but it sounded easier than figuring out how to pretend to be Ex-69ers, who were also overserious, but at the same time, too horny to be professional.
While the smart people were discussing the plan with the dimensional box, Mateo pulled Korali aside for a personal conversation. “How do you feel?”
“I’m okay,” Korali answered. “I don’t have any problems with stasis. Some people do, but you use better technology anyway.”
“I don’t mean that, though that is nice to hear. I mean, you’ve been behind enemy lines for a while now. Going down to this planet is your chance to return to your life, but it’s also a chance to...screw us over. If you were planning on doing that, I wouldn’t expect you to warn me, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to ask.”
She smiled softly, and kept looking forward. “In December of 1943, during what your people refer to as World War II, two enemy pilots named Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler encountered each other on the battlefield. Brown’s aircraft was too damaged to continue fighting, but instead of destroying him, Stigler escorted him to safety. Decades later, long after the animosities from the war had passed, the two of them reunited, and became true friends. I don’t know if you and I are going to reunite in 47 years, but I know that I’m going to show you compassion now. You saved those people on the space station when you didn’t have to. I still believe that the Oaksent is a good man, but I no longer believe that you’re not. For now, that’s just going to have to be enough.”
Mateo smiled back. “I understand, and appreciate it.”
Leona came up to them. “We’re ready. Korali, you need to get in your stasis pod. It’s going to be longer than half a day for you this time, and you won’t be allowed out until we let you.”
“I get it,” Korali replied respectfully.
Once the Vellani Ambassador arrived at the outer edge of the system, it turned invisible, and parked itself on a long-period comet. Ramses had programmed the exterior hologram to make them look like a standard recreational shuttle from Ex-420, but they didn’t want anyone to find it during their interim year, regardless of what it looked like. When they returned to the timestream in 2444, they released Korali from her stasis pod to go over the plan one more time, and then they got dressed, and began to cover the rest of the distance at subfractional speeds.
Their reputation preceded them, even though no one knew who they were. Just dropping down to the surface of the planet with those three big numbers on the side of their hull practically parted the sea for them. No one asked them for verification, or to register with an intake officer. They could presumably do whatever they wanted here, and no one would try to stop them. One thing they apparently weren’t allowed to do, however, was land in a remote area of the planet. There were satellites and ground stations positioned all around the globe. This was to ensure that no one tried to stay here for the rest of the lives when they were supposed to go back to their work eventually. Besides, that wouldn’t do them any good, because the whole point was to help the survivors of Ex-467 return to those lives. The team was just going to be really far away when that happened. So they did need to be away from the population centers, just not too far away. They couldn’t teleport, though, because that could be tracked.
They stopped at the hotel to check in, which basically involved them showing those three special numbers on the shoulders of their uniforms, and providing the clerk with false names. They spent a couple hours in their suite before claiming to be going on a leisurely stroll in the arboretum. That’s exactly what they did, except that there was nothing leisurely about it. They walked as fast as they could, and even ran a little, though Korali found it difficult to keep up, since her body was not enhanced. Mateo actually carried her part of the way, because they wanted to get really far from anyone else. The survivors would eventually make their way back, but not too quickly.
Several hours later, they were roughly forty kilometers away. They were far enough away, in fact, that no one who suddenly woke up here would have any particular reason to suspect that their best hope of finding civilization lay in the east. This was a good place to drop them off, even though they could have gone farther. The weather was calm here, and the environment felt safe. A beautiful clear pond provided them with a source of freshwater, and Korali said that a lot of these plants were edible. They were looking for a cave to sort of maybe encourage the survivors to dig in for the night, but they were liable to do that either way, which was why they chose to land the Vellani on this side of the planet, because night was falling soon anyway.
“Do you have your story straight?” Leona asked Korali.
“Yes. I managed to get into an escape pod as soon as I heard the alarm go off in the warehouse. I left so quickly that I didn’t even hear the announcement to head for the mess hall. The blastwave of a secondary explosion that the Lucius bomb triggered struck my pod, and knocked me unconscious. I’ve been surviving in stasis ever since until the Oaksent dispatched a rescue team to search for survivors. They ordered me to come here to Ex-18118 to give the survivors one year to rest and recuperate. I then decided that it was best to let them out of the Subdimensional Crucible away from the nearest hotel to avoid inundating them with questions right after they were released.”
“Are you okay with lying?” Marie asked.
“It won’t be my first time,” Korali acknowledged, obviously never intending to elaborate. She carefully took the Crucible from Ramses. It was still in the giant suitcase that they used to conceal it from others. She set it on the ground and opened it up to use the microscope. “They’re all right. They’ll be all right.” She stood back up. “Who knows what’s happened to them, though? They’ve had years to form a new society. Your supply drops have surely helped, but they could be anybody.”
“You know how to contact us,” Leona reminded her.
Korali tapped the comms device secretly implanted behind her ear.
“We’ll see each other again, Mateo said confidently.” He took her in a hug. “Hopefully we won’t have to wait a whole 47 years for it.”
“Agreed. I’ll probably be dead by then.”
They left her alone, and made their way towards the hotel. Running at full speed this time, they were back in less than four hours. They relaunched just before midnight.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fluence: Elder (Part VIII)

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
They were time travelers, so there was probably no need to hurry away, but there might be. It was unclear how connected they were to their shifted selves. Perhaps every second they spent at one point in spacetime had an impact on the events in another that they couldn’t understand, or determined precisely when they could return to a given place. They watched the butterflies for a few more minutes, but had to focus on the task at hand, which was what exactly? They didn’t know yet. They were just going to go back to Po, and see what was going on there. The four of them came together as twilight was falling, and reached for each other’s hands, but then Goswin stopped, and massaged his chin while he looked upon Briar. In response to this, Briar flinched and leaned back. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“You know what...” Goswin began cryptically, pausing to everyone’s discomfort. “I don’t think that there is. You grew up under extraordinary circumstances, and you’ve improved in a very short amount of time. Do you regret killing Mateo?”
“Of course I do,” Briar said. “What does that mean? Why do you ask now, when we’re about to leave?”
“It means that I think we’ve officially become a real crew—all four of us together—even though I couldn’t point to a moment when it happened. We’ve been worried about shifting to competing realities apart from each other, but I don’t think that’s been happening. Eight Point Seven, you are our Eight Point Seven, just in a new body. Weaver, thank you for letting us into your home. And Briar? I think you’re gonna be okay. You’re one of us now, and I’m going to rely on you just as much as them to help us solve whatever problem we’re barreling towards. Whatever happens, we stick together, okay? Our powers operate on a psychic level. I’m not worried about the abstract concept of identity tomorrow. If we wanna stay together, we will. We can call ourselves The Primes.”
“Others shifted versions of us are probably coming to the same decision,” Weaver!“Prime” pointed out.
“Yes, but it will be true of none of them but us,” Goswin said, knowing that it didn’t make a lot of temporal logical sense.
“I hope you’re right, Captain,” Weaver said.
Eight Point Seven only nodded.
“Thank you,” Briar said to him graciously.
“What was that thing you said to Leona Matic that one time?” Goswin asked Eight Point Seven rhetorically. “You better make like a jock and strap in. Shit’s about to get real.”
They shifted themselves back to The Nucleus, which for all intents and purposes, was the center of the universe. They were not the only ones there; not by a long shot. The place was chock full of their shifted alternates, some running around, others wandering, and some just standing there, some in fear, and some in determination. There were several other people scattered about who weren’t the same as the core four, including Ellie Underhill, as well as her friend, Trinity Turner. They saw a few instances of Cassidy Long, her mother Étude Einarsson, and her mother, Saga Einarsson. They were all about the same age. At least one version of Leona was here, and she was either teleporting around, or different versions were popping in and out of existence like virtual particles. She was stopping only long enough to whisper something to someone, and hear a response before moving on. They didn’t recognize everyone, though. The place was utter mayhem. No one knew what they were really doing, and no one was in charge. Or maybe that wasn’t true.
A catwalk extended from a balcony two stories above the crowd. Four people walked along as it grew longer and longer. They were not alternates of the core four, but entirely different people, and they did appear to be in charge. They didn’t appear evil, but they didn’t seem particularly friendly either. One of them was Tamerlane Pryce, but none of the other three looked familiar. A cursory glance around the room gave the impression that they did not have any shifted selves here, but were each one of a kind. It wasn’t totally out of left field that Pryce should be here. He was present on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida when the crew of the X González departed. He was there for a reason, but there must be a reality out there where he finished his work on the planet early, or was perhaps fired for sometimes being an insufferable tool. Where did these other three come from, though?
Pryce held up both of his arms, and slowly lowered them to quiet the rabbling crowd. They did not comply. He jerked his arms back up, and tried again, but still it didn’t work. He looked to one of the women to his flank, and held out his hand. She gave him an object that resembled a bullhorn, and that was exactly what it was, but not a regular one. The Time Shriek was a mysterious scream that randomly echoed across the lands at various points in space time. There was no predicting its appearance, nor anything to do about it. If it interrupted you while you were in the middle of something, you just had to stand there and wait until it was over. This device was evidently capable of summoning the Shriek at will, and even amplifying it. It scattered across the hall, pounding into everyone’s eardrums, causing them to grasp at their heads in pain, and forcing some down to their knees. “Thank you! It’s so kind of you to give me your attention with no incentive.”
“Why can’t we leave?” a version of Briar demanded to know from the floor.
“That’s a good question, random citizen,” Pryce replied, pointing down to him. “It’s because of my good friend here.” He placed a hand on the shoulder of the woman who didn’t give him the Time Shriek Horn. Iolanta Koval is a very powerful metachooser. None of you is in control anymore.”
Iolanta glared at the audience. She reached into her fanny pack, and pulled out some kind of fruit, which she bit right into, rind and all.
“Ha! She’s got an affinity for citrus. It’s a time traveler thing. You all get it. I’m sure you know me,” he went on, “but just in case one of you shifty mother fuckers is from a reality where I don’t exist, my name is Tamerlane Pryce, but to distinguish me from my Afterlife Simulation and Third Rail selves, please just call me The Elder.”
“There’s already a guy named Elder!” one of the Weavers called up to him.
“There are hundreds of people that share your name too, jackass!” Pryce snapped back.” He huffed. “Anyway, as I was saying, this here is Airlock Karen. That’s obviously not her real name, but everyone she thought she could trust on her ship started calling her that, so she’s decided to own it. Similarly, A.F. here adopted his name from his enemies, who never bothered to learn his real name either. He hopes to vanquish them one day, but for my part, I hope he fails, ‘cause they’re good people, but I’m not gonna get in his way. We’re a team, just like the four of you...and you...and you, and you.” He pointed at random groups. Was everyone here always in a group of four exactly, even when they weren’t the core defaults?
“What are we doing here?” a Goswin questioned.
Pryce looked down at him. “I want to join forces.”
“Yes? Go on,” the same Goswin urged.
“Yesterday, I moved a mountain,” Pryce said bizarrely. “I mean that literally. The four of us stood before it, and we made it disappear, only to make it reappear by the end of the episode—I mean, a few hours later. But we didn’t put it back where it belonged. It’s now two meters farther north. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done. Different crews have developed their powers differently, and some of you may have done something similar, or even more impressive. We can alter time and space on a level that no one in histories has ever enjoyed, and I believe that together, we can do even more. We can remake the future to our desires. Notice that I didn’t say whims. They’re not going to be pointless and silly. The mountain was just practice. There is a war brewing in the Sixth Key, I’m sure you’ve all at least heard about it. They call it the Reality Wars because five parallel realities have been forced together into one. Their respective habitats remain intact, but the stars have been consolidated, cutting their available resources by 80%. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a friend sending you an uncompressed video on your phone, which suddenly dropped your charge from full to 20%? You’d be pissed. Everyone is pissed, and they don’t have a true culprit to blame, so they’re blaming each other. We can help them.” He paused for effect. “We can move them.”
Leona appeared next to Goswin!Prime. “Are you the ones who took Angela?” she whispered to him.
“Who?”
“That’s a no.” She was about to teleport away again.
“Wait. What does she look like?” Goswin asked.
Leona held up her palm. A small holographic photo appeared of a woman that he had never seen before. “A core crew was on our ship, and when they left, she disappeared along with them. She’s not here, so they left her somewhere else in spacetime, but if you don’t recognize her, then it wasn’t you.”
Goswin looked to the other three Primes. “Let’s find her. Just like Misha.”
They nodded. And just like that, Angela was standing next to them. “Oh, thank God,” she exclaimed, taking Leona into an embrace.
“Excuse me!” Tamerlane asked from his balcony. “What’s going on down there?”
“Sorry, sir!” Goswin!Prime answered. “She was just looking for a friend!”
Pryce looked over at Iolanta, and snapped his fingers at the primes. She peeked over the edge at them, and a second later, the whole crew was standing on the platform with the Elder, and the other self-proclaimed leaders. “You just summoned someone here, even with the Time Lid shut?”
“The what?” Briar asked.
“Is that a band, errr...?” Weaver asked sarcastically.
Pryce looked at Iolanta again. “Why are they able to do that?”
She took another bite of her citrus. “They shouldn’t be able to. Not here. Not now.” She shrugged, and tried to take another bite.
Pryce slapped the fruit out of her hand. “That’s your only job!” He pointed at the primes. “Focus on them. Stop them specifically from using their powers!” He faced the primes. “Bring me...a dancing monkey in a hat.”
“No,” Goswin decided.
“Okay, that’s fair,” Pryce admitted. “There’s ethical concern with that. Instead, just bring me a birthday cake.”
“No,” Goswin repeated.
“All right, you don’t want to steal from a kid, I get it. Just summon anything that isn’t already in this asteroid. Dealer’s choice.” He looked back at Iolanta. “Are you blocking them?” he reiterated.
“Absolutely. I can feel it,” she assured him.
Goswin sighed. He hovered his hand over the floor, and summoned Portrait of a Young Man, which was famously stolen by Nazis during the war, and never recovered. He held onto the frame to keep it from tipping over.
Pryce noticeably gasped. “How did you do that? You four didn’t even talk about it? That is the biggest issue within the crews. No one can agree on anything.”
“We’re in sync, I guess,” Goswin figured.
Pryce took the painting, and held it up for all to see. “Witness power! These four have accomplished the impossible: true neural synchronization! This painting has been missing for four hundred and fifty years, and now here it is. They barely gave it a thought. It was probably destroyed in the original timeline.” He gazed upon the Primes. “These versions will be our foundation. They—not I—will lead us into the future, and the past. They’ll stop the Reality Wars, and save all of mankind in the Sixth Key.” He figured that this choice would endear everyone to him.
“How ‘bout no, Scott..okay?” Goswin!Prime snapped back.
“What?”
“You seem to like references,” Goswin continued, “so no. Scotty, don’t.”
“I don’t think I saw that one,” Pryce admitted.
Goswin rolled his eyes, and looked back at his crew. “Don’t tell Scotty, Scotty doesn’t know.”
“Enough,” Pryce declared. “I know that I’ve been cracking a few jokes of my own, but I’m being serious. “We need you. Your powers may be limitless. And you don’t really have a choice.”
“I actually think we do,” Goswin suggested. “I believe that that is exactly what you’re trying to tell us, wouldn’t you say, kids?”
“Yeah, I agree,” Weaver!Prime said.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Eight Point Seven!Prime concurred.
Briar!Prime nodded. “Yep.”
Goswin stepped up to the railing, and looked out over the audience. “Do you all wanna be here? Raise your hand if you do?”
A few people raised their hands.
“Then be free.” Goswin!Prime swept his hands forward from his chest, and all but the ones with their hands raised disappeared. Goswin turned, and swept only one hand this time, causing the famous painting to disappear. “It belongs in a museum.”
“We’ll get them back,” Pryce promised.
“No. You won’t.” Goswin held his hand up again to facilitate his own departure, along with the other Primes, but this A.F. guy took it as a threat. He reached over with a huge compensation knife, and jammed it into Goswin’s stomach.
“What the hell did you just do?” Pryce questioned. “Iolanta, stop blocking powers. We need to get a medic here stat!”

Friday, April 19, 2024

Microstory 2130: Not Lookin’ Good For Me

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
Things are not good. At first, I thought I just overdid it with all the walking and shopping yesterday, and that surely exacerbated the issue, but that is not what’s making me sick. It couldn’t be. Exercise might make you nauseated, and certainly tired and sore, but my symptoms are a lot worse than that. I was restless all night last night. I’m not sure if I got any sleep, but I was pretty out of it the whole time. Things started to come back to me as more time passed after waking up, reminding me that I never truly got any sleep, though I wasn’t ever fully conscious either. I was sweating throughout, and coughing regularly. There’s a rash kind of all over my body that I think I’ve probably had for a few days now, but didn’t give much thought to before. I was really hot and chilly at the same time this morning, so I was guessing that I had a fever, but at no point during my shopping did I think to buy myself a thermometer. I first took a shower to clear myself up, but that did no good, so I filled up the tub, and let the steam wrap me up. Then I had to shower again, because that’s what you gotta do. It was a relief while I was in the water, but it didn’t last one second on the bathmat. I knew that I had to do something to actively fix this, so I called my parole officer, who basically ordered me to go to the pharmacy down the street. They have a clinic there for quick visits, which are only meant to give you an idea of what’s wrong. They don’t provide treatment, but they can give you recommendations. They’re quite certain that I have an infection, though they can’t tell me whether it’s bacterial, viral, or parasitic again. They sent my blood to a lab, but that could take time to process, as you can imagine. I don’t have any insurance yet, so I can’t go to a regular doctor, but fortunately, I’m a felon! That means the state has to provide me with minimal medical care. I’m going to the jail an hour and a half early to speak with the medical staff there. We still need to figure out what this means, because regardless of my specific diagnosis, it’s not lookin’ good for me. I’m likely contagious, and can’t be allowed to roam around the general population. The solitary cells aren’t equipped to handle me either. Even if all I need is water and rest, it’s a legal issue to just throw me in a hole, and let me fend for myself. The prison that’s about an hour away has a special medical ward, but I’m really hoping that they don’t make me go there. I know that I won’t really be in prison, but it’s close enough that I don’t want to do it. My parole officer is looking into house arrest options, or just a postponement of my sentence, but they’ve already accommodated me for a lot, so I don’t like my chances.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Microstory 2129: Eat All the Things

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
Today was a fun day for me, but will make for a pretty boring post for all of you. My new company gave me both a signing bonus, and an advance. I’m not a millionaire or anything, but I have enough money in my bank account to start taking care of myself. After the pre-onboarding paperwork and meetings that I had to go through—which I can’t talk to you about—I went shopping. I bought groceries, as well as other necessary new belongings, like a nightstand to put next to my bed. I got a lot of walking done today, because I don’t have a car, and I had to make separate trips, since I didn’t want to be carrying all of the bags around. For the larger furniture, like that nightstand, and a rug for the dining area, I had to make a whole separate trip each. Fortunately, I’m in a really convenient area, so it’s not like I had to travel for miles and miles to get to these places. I have this problem when I go grocery shopping, especially if I’m starting with very little, or in this case, almost nothing. I buy everything that I feel like eating that day, but that’s too much food, so I have to choose one for my next meal, and save the rest for later. Or I don’t wait, and eat all the things. That’s how I gained so much weight even after leaving college. The way it worked in the dorm cafeteria was that I could eat all the food I wanted every time I swiped my card, and I felt like I had to take advantage of the savings by eating extra, because my parents were paying for it. I thought that this sort of behavior would stop once I moved into an apartment during my last year, but by then, I was used to binging, and couldn’t help myself. That’s never really stopped, even when I’ve been able to lose weight, which is what happened when I became immortal, but it’s coming back now, so I have to be really careful. Anyway, I’m sure you don’t wanna hear any more about my eating disorder and weight issues.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Microstory 2128: Carve Out Some Real Time

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
My therapist session went pretty well, though there’s really nothing interesting for me to tell you about. I told her that I was from another universe, but we didn’t get into it yet. We didn’t even get into my arrest. We basically pretended like I was a perfectly normal thirtysomething man who had a relatable childhood, and was starting a new job. We discussed my upbringing, my educational background, and my past work experience. She just wanted to get to know me before trying to give me any advice, or help me through my issues. We obviously didn’t have time to go over my entire life story, especially not since I first had to spend some time filling out paperwork, and setting up a payment arrangement, so I’m sure the next session will basically be the same thing. So nothing juicy to report yet, you’ll just have to wait. In the meantime, let me tell you about my new apartment, which I finalized today. It’s on the edge of the city, on the Kansas side, which makes it fairly close to the intermittent jail facility, as well as the parole offices. Sometimes Leonard will be visiting me at home, sometimes I’ll have to go to his office, and sometimes we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. This is a really great location, and I’m satisfied with my choice. The building has a ton of amenities, which I never used before, but which I’m sure I’ll start now. There’s a gym, and now that I’m no longer immortal, I’ll probably have to start worrying about my health a little more. It includes a lap pool, and that’s all it’s for. While it’s okay for children to live here, this place advertises mostly to busy working adults; single people, and childless couples. There’s a playroom that can cater to various ages, though there’s no dedicated supervisor on site, so parents can’t just drop off their young ones, and go out. The complex also has a communal area for eating, which is connected to a few popular restaurants, though these restaurants are not technically part of the complex; they just built them within its walls. They’re open to the public. My company doesn’t foresee me needing to meet clients in person, and even if I do, I’ll probably have to go to them, but if one of them happens to be in the area, the second floor also has offices that can be rented by the hour, so that’s pretty handy.

I pretty much had to get this process fast-tracked, because I needed to move in today. I’m spending all day tomorrow going through some pre-onboarding procedures for my new job, including a formal background check, even though I don’t have much of a verifiable background. I really wanted to finish this all up by the end of the week, so I can let the FBI off the hook for my expenses. I also didn’t want to schedule anything for Friday. That’s the day that I go back into jail, and even though I don’t report until the evening, I really don’t want to start making any commitments that could potentially turn into conflicts. I may feel more comfortable in the future, or I may just always leave that day available for safety. The beauty of my new job is that I can set my own hours, which means Mondays could be their own buffer too, if need be. Fortunately, in terms of the apartment, I don’t have any belongings, so once they handed me the key, I just walked right in. The FBI is continuing to let me use their laptop for now, but depending on how long the pre-onboarding takes tomorrow, I may go shopping at some point. If I have to do that on Friday instead, that will probably be okay, because I could always leave the store early if I lose track of time. It probably won’t be until Tuesday until I can carve out some real time to go shopping, for lamps, and groceries, and whatnot. I spent my whole life waiting for the weekend to do extra things like all this. It’s going to take some time before I’m used to reversing that, and not forgetting absent-mindedly that my weekends are no longer free, and won’t be for several months.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Microstory 2127: Too Tired to Relax

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
I accepted one of the jobs, and respectfully declined the others. I’ll be working from home, which is something that I always wanted to do before all this time travel and universe-hopping. It saves on gas, and other transportation, and it allows me to work for anyone in the world. I thought I was going to be able to tell you what I’ll be doing, but my employer doesn’t want me to divulge such information. They may allow me to say certain, carefully crafted things at a later date, but for now, I should just treat it as privileged information. They didn’t make me sign an NDA, but I’m obviously going to respect their decision. All I can say is that I’m allowed to work whenever I want unless I’m scheduled for a meeting or a call, and it’s by the week, rather than the day. So if I get all of my work done at the beginning of the week, I can take a couple of days off, and still get paid the same, because I covered my hours, and was sufficiently productive. We’ll see how it goes. Before I left my original universe, people were pushing for a four-day workweek, but I’ve always believed that it would be better to work shorter hours across more days than to get entire days off. I would rather take minimal breaks in between than work my butt off non-stop until I crash on the weekend. I’m too tired to relax at that point, ya know? I know that sounds dumb, but if you’ve ever been there, you understand what I mean. Anyway, most of my last several posts have been on the longer side, so I think I’ll just do a little of that relaxing that I was talking about. I’ll have more to say tomorrow, because my new job isn’t the only thing I have going on. I’m this close to selecting an apartment. I found a nice complex with fully furnished units, but new, so I don’t have to worry about others having gotten their grubby little hands on the furniture—or worse—smoking around it. I’ll still clean everything. I’ll also need to tell you what my therapy was like, because I’m writing this prior to my evening session. I think I’ve already told you that, as a patient, I’m none too worried about the confidentiality of psychological and medical treatment. I expect my provider to respect my privacy, but I’ll say whatever I want about myself, so you’ll be hearing about my progress in the next coming months.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Microstory 2126: Called it Hustling

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
Orientation didn’t do a very good job of preparing me for what jail was going to be like for the rest of the weekends that I’m going to have to go through it. For one, I didn’t have a cellmate before. I knew that I would this time, but I had forgotten what it was like to live with someone else in such close quarters, and in fact, they’ve never been that close for me anyway. I don’t want to say anything bad about the guy, but I have trouble getting along with other people. That’s just a general rule when it comes to my personality. I don’t see the world in a normal way, and that gets on people’s nerves. He didn’t try to hurt me or exploit me, but I don’t think we’re going to be lifelong friends either. I ran into even more personality clashing once I got out into the common area. There are people in there from all walks of life. While individual cells are not co-ed, the facility is as a whole, which I prefer, but as woke as I am, I worry about women being around men a lot more than I would have to in a perfect world. I found myself watching them to make sure they weren’t about to be harassed, which probably only served to make me look like a perverted creeper. That’s not the image that I want to give off to people. They already have a bad impression of me. Word had spread about my special situation. Some of the things that they heard are true, and some of them are not, so I spent a lot of time fielding questions, and clarifying inaccuracies. Even the people who understood what happened weren’t happy with me.

Some thought that I got off easy, and should have been sent to prison, or received some other harsher sentence. Others called me a narc for helping the FBI catch the teenage girl’s abductors, even if they agreed on principle that kidnapping toddlers is wrong. Some were specifically bothered that I was given such special treatment, like the hotel room that the government paid for, or the legal assistance that I got from an employer that I worked for as nothing more than a janitor for a couple of weeks. Most of them, I would say, don’t like that I run this here website, feeling that I’m exploiting them for money, and misrepresenting the justice system. I try to tell them that I’ve not been doing that, but only speaking my truth; and being clear that this is what I have been experiencing, but they don’t see it that way. Some of them have read some of it, and some only heard about it, so they all have their own impressions that I don’t think I can change. I’m pretty sure I’m the most famous person in there, which did not even occur to me. Yes, the number of daily visitors for my site has been increasing, but this service provider doesn’t tell me where these people are, and it certainly doesn’t show who they are, so I didn’t go into jail thinking that I may have to worry about my reputation. There were a few proponents of mine, if you can believe it. They acknowledged that there was nothing wrong with keeping a blog, and that I’m not the only one in the world to do it. A few popular video bloggers have similar stories to share, though usually after the fact, rather than while it’s happening. My advocates called it hustling, and encouraged others not to criticize me for trying to make a buck, which is the most common reason for anyone to be locked up in a place like that, so they should all be able to relate to leaning into one’s strengths. That makes some sense, and I appreciate the sentiment.

I was hoping to just keep my head down, and serve my time without making trouble, but it’s always going to find me. I’m going to be doing this for the next 20 weeks until I’m finished with my thousand hour jail time. It could get better as they get used to me, or it could get worse. Hell, just writing these words right now could just piss people off even more, including those who were kind of on my side before. But either way, I’m not going to stop, because this is part of my rehabilitation. It’s a form of accountability that the courts are exploring for future use. For my part, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m sure different people would have a different perspective, but taking a lighter sentence in exchange of keeping an accountability blog? That has to be better, right? I should sure think so. Even if you’re not a good writer, that’s got to be preferable. There could be minimums for word count, or something, maybe, but hopefully no limits on grammar mistakes, or requirements for flow. That last sentence didn’t flow well. It shouldn’t be a form of forced education. Some people hate school, myself included. I dunno, maybe nothing will come of it. I should really just focus on my own progress right now. Here are a few updates in that regard. I found a therapist, and will be meeting with her on Tuesdays and Thursday. I’ll also probably be signing up for group sessions on weekends, but I’m not ready to start those just yet. I have regular meetings with my parole officer on Wednesdays, and he’ll work with my work schedule once that’s all figured out. I’ve narrowed it down to two jobs, but by the time you read this, I will have probably decided, so I’ll go over that later this week when we all finalize the decision. I just need a few questions answered before I feel comfortable choosing one over the other.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 22, 2443

Generated by Google Gemini text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
With their advanced substrates, the team was capable of surviving any number of harsh environments, but that wasn’t something that they were going to seek out on purpose. It was really only something they should use when they had no other choice, and this wasn’t such a case; it was a test. The reframe engine was ready, but there was still a chance that it would vaporize the whole ship upon initiation of reframe speeds. So they didn’t want to be anywhere near it when they first turned it on. Ramses created an interfacing computer, which would allow him to operate the Vellani Ambassador from Ex-382, where it was safer. It wasn’t safe, per se, because the world itself was dangerous in its own special way, but it was manageable for a period of time since they were staying within the self-contained atmosphere of their pocket dimension, and because they had vacuum suits for excursions.
The entire surface of Ex-382 was a toxic wasteland. No one lived here, and hopefully they never did. They at least didn’t detect any signs of civilization here, except for the piles and piles of garbage. It was all over the place, randomly strewn about. The smell was unbearable, even here at the South Pole, where there wasn’t as much as there was elsewhere. This wasn’t just a planet-wide landfill. They dumped truly dangerous materials here, namely radioactive waste. By the time the ship Extremus was built, fusion power was ubiquitous and unremarkable, which meant that Bronach Oaksent would have been able to utilize it as soon as he went back in time, and began to build his empire in the Goldilocks Corridor. There should be no real reason for him to make any plans that included nuclear fission power plants. It was a perfectly fine alternative for Earth during its developmental years, but when one was starting from scratch, it just didn’t make much sense.
One of the hardest obstacles to overcome when pursuing fusion and antimatter solutions to energy needs was manufacturing the stuff. It didn’t exactly grow on trees. That was why it took so long for these both to be adopted, even when power generation techniques were perfected. Mining fissile elements was not easy, but it was relatively straightforward. Hydrogen was the lightest element in the universe, which was why it literally floated away, making it difficult to capture, and even to store. Still, Oaksent was an immortal who came from the future, and had untold time to formulate his new civilization. Using resources to maintain the infrastructure for nuclear fission production was probably only done as yet another form of control over his people. He didn’t have to use it, but making people labor away in the mines, in the plants, and on the ships that brought all the waste here, was keeping everyone reliant on him, and not letting them be too happy. He didn’t like happy people. That much was clear from whatever psychological profile they could cook up in their collective headcanons. He wasn’t dumping the waste on the planets where people lived at least. That should also be in his profile, that he didn’t want his people to die; not prematurely anyway.
“Ugh, I can still smell it,” Marie noted.
“Switch off your olfactory receptors,” Ramses instructed. He was tweaking the interface system, making sure that he was linked to every single system on board the Ambassador, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.
“That...what? That’s something we can do?” she questioned.
“Did no one read the manual?” Ramses asked with a sigh.
“Be careful,” Leona warned Marie, and the rest of the team currently present. Smell is highly linked to breathing, and also serves the evolutionary purpose of alerting you to smells that could lead to death. Don’t keep it off all the time. You may still get sick, and just not know it.”
“So...” Marie pressed.
“You can shut it off right now because of the smell,” Leona allowed. “I would lock up our suits, but we have to keep them close and accessible in case of emergency. Just remember to turn it back on once we live. I’ll remember to clean and disinfect the suits thoroughly later.”
“I’ll do that,” Mateo volunteered. “You have more important concerns to worry over, Captain.”
“Did you guys know that Earth is 70% water? I’ve never seen that much water in my life.” Korali was still reading about Earth from the central archives, and had come to the conclusion that all of these simple facts were not likely to be lies that the team made up in order to brainwash her, but that it was the other way around. They were trying to show her what the galaxy was really like, and even though she had by no means switched sides already, she was starting to accept that some of the things that she was brought up to believe were not entirely—or maybe not at all—accurate.
“Hmm. You’re right,” Mateo realized. “The worlds that we’ve gone to have been mostly barren, with fairly little water. The resort world had the most, but they were nowhere near the levels of Earth from the orbital images that I’m remembering.”
“More control,” Leona guessed. She was spraying an air purifier on their suits to mask some of the terrible smell until they could be fully detailed.
“I’m ready,” Ramses announced. “What about the backup?” Leona asked him.
“It’s been coded, and will only take a year to manufacture,” he answered.”
“The pod is fueled?”
Ramses laughed. “It’s fine. It’ll get us into space. I wouldn’t let us go into this half-prepared.” The dimensional generator was attached to one of the personal pods. These were capable of traveling through a star system in a matter of months, and landing on an orbital, maybe to refuel hydrogen levels, or to manufacture other structures, or just to wait for rescue. They weren’t really designed to launch from the surface of a massive terrestrial planet, but they were technically capable of it. It would use nearly its entire reserve of isotopes to make it happen, but it was better than staying here if the Vellani Ambassador was destroyed during the test. Ramses planned to install teleporters on them, but that would also require temporal batteries or something, because they didn’t use any less fusion power than the rocket equation demanded for a regular launch, so it wasn’t like that solved the problem. Hopefully, the test of the reframe engine would go perfectly, and none of this would matter.
“I appreciate all of your hard work,” Leona told him. “It does not go unnoticed. Go ahead and start the countdown.”
Ramses switched on all of the camera feeds, including the satellite that they had dropped out to watch the event from the outside. He started counting down from eleven, hovering his hand over the button. Everyone held their breath, including Korali, who managed to peel herself away from her studies long enough to bear witness. “Three, two, one, max.”
The ship disappeared in a flash of light. They all looked at the other views now, which were coming in from the interior. The bridge looked perfectly normal, and was completely intact. The corridors and rooms were all still fine. The camera from the engine room was a problem at first, which prevented everyone from exhaling. It was showing them snow for the first several seconds until the spatio-temporal distortion resettled, and the image returned to normal. The engine was holding as it was meant to. It was vibrating at an incredibly high frequency; so high, in fact, that it was imperceptible to human vision, even with these advanced eyes that they had. If the ship was going to vaporize, it should have done it by now due to the immense stress that these intense oscillations were causing the machine to experience. Still, they wanted to be sure that the nanosealant was permanent, and not merely holding temporarily.
For the next three hours, the Ambassador flew away from them, managing to make it out about 15,000 astronomical units. The engine then shut off for an hour while an army of microbots spread all over the engine to check for nanofractures. Leona knew exactly where the original ruptures were. If the bots found these to have returned, the smart ones here would know that the sealant hadn’t fully worked. If they found new ruptures, that would tell them that there was some kind of systemic issue that might not be repairable by what they had, or by any efforts at all. By this time, most of the group had begun to breathe again. Mateo and Marie occupied their time teaching Korali how to play RPS 101 Plus. Ramses worked on other projects while he kept an eye on the quantum data coming through from the diagnostics. Leona proverbially held her breath the whole time as she focused on nothing but the data. It was her only concern. If this wasn’t successful, they could build a new ship, but their plan to free the people of the Corridor from its despot would have to be placed on hold indefinitely until they regathered resources.
“How’s it lookin’?” Marie asked after their game was over, and Mateo’s sponge was finally too bigged by her wall.
“I think we’ll be safe. We’ll know in another four hours,” Leona answered. The ship would make the three-hour trip back here, and then go through the whole diagnostic process all over again. Only then could they leave for their next stop.
“Good,” Mateo decided, still bitter about losing the game. “I’m ready to go.”
“Did y’all know that something called a cow has four stomachs?” Korali asked.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Fluence: Monarch (Part VII)

Generated by Google Gemini text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
Weaver stepped towards Misha Collins, who looked at her with some level of familiarity, suggesting that he had been here before, or had at least seen her somewhere. He wasn’t shocked or scared, but more annoyed. She reached out to shake his hand, but pulled it away before he could reach back. “Sorry. First. Do you know who we are?”
“You’re Holly Blue, Goswin Montagne, Eight Point Seven Point Two, and Briar. I never learned his last name.”
“Have you been to this location before?” Weaver pressed.
Misha looked around. “Yes. About a month ago.”
“I wish I knew which kind of month we’re talking about,” Weaver muttered to herself. That is, had it also been three months in the Ediacaran period? Understanding whether the disparate time periods were somehow linked to one another could help prevent this from happening again. She reached her hand out once more, but pulled back yet again at the last second. “Sorry, do you like...salmon?”
“I suppose I do, as much as anyone,” Misha said, confused.
“I didn’t say salmon,” Weaver tried to clarify, “I said salmon.” This was a test of sorts. When a time traveler encountered someone whose understanding of time was in question, pointedly asking them whether they liked salmon should indicate at least a baseline. If they thought that they were only talking about the actual fish, they probably didn’t know anything, or perhaps just not very much.
“I’m sorry, I don’t hear the difference,” Misha admitted. He was a human, and while this obviously wasn’t his first time around the block, other shifted selves of this group had so far kept him pretty well in the dark about the details.
“Holly Blue,” she echoed, finally shaking his hand, “but you can call me Weaver.”
“You can call me Castiel, if you want. A lot of people prefer it.”
“We need to get you home, Mister Collins,” Goswin said, also stepping forward. “If you’ve met others like us, and returned home, then they must have figured out how to do it.”
“They just surrounded me in a circle, closed their eyes, and then I was home.”
“That’s all it was?” Eight Point Seven asked.
“Oh.” Misha pointed to Weaver. “You tapped something on this refrigerator, and said something about a bubble.”
“I don’t know how he got through the bubble in the first place,” Weaver began, “but we’ll probably have to drop it to send him back. It would be the only safe way to do it. But we should be quick. We never know when other shifted selves will show up. We could have just missed the group that came before us. Measuring time is difficult. I don’t even keep a clock in here, except for my special watch. I may have left it somewhere...”
“Do what you gotta do,” Goswin requested. “Let’s make this quick. We’ll try to send him back where he belongs, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll just go with him.”
“Wait, there was one more thing,” Misha remembered. “You gave me this.” He knelt down and pulled something off of his shoelace aglet, handing it to Weaver.
She inspected it. “This is a temporal tracker. She probably used it to make sure that you were returned to where you belonged, instead of Belgium, or something. You weren’t meant to keep it; that’s why you were able to break through the bubble.”
“I must have missed that part,” Misha said. “I was looking at the sea cucumber.”
Weaver looked over at the glass. “That’s not a cucumber. What was the date?”
“The first time it happened was January 11, 2011,” Misha answered. “This time, it was February 25.”
She handed him the tracker back. “All right. Wait thirty minutes, and then step on it. I mean exactly thirty minutes. Set your watch to it.”
“I understand,” Misha promised.
“Okay.” Weaver went over to the refrigerator, and started tapping on the screen. Blast doors dropped down over the glass, to block the view of the water, and its sea creatures. She kept tapping on it, causing the space around them to shimmer, implying that the temporal bubble was now down. They all felt a small lurch in their stomachs as a result. Still, Weaver kept tapping on the fridge. They started to hear a persistent beep from down the hallway, the exact source of which was not clear.
“I think your smoke detector needs a new battery,” Misha guessed.
“It’s fine, we like fire,” Weaver said oddly. “You heard the man. Let’s put him in a circle.” They all came together, and held hands, even Briar, who wanted to fix this just as much as the rest of them.
Goswin was the captain here, and even though Weaver knew a lot more about this stuff, he needed to step on up. “We’re trying to get our new friend here back to February 25, 2011. February 25 in...”
“Vancouver. You don’t need to know my exact address; anywhere there is fine.”
“Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,” Goswin said. “Everyone think about that, and nothing else.”
They shut their eyes instinctually, and focused on the goal. None of them wanted to open their eyes for fear of breaking concentration, but success was fairly obvious when they felt a short burst of wind, and heard the flap of wings. They each peeked with one eye, and found there to only be three others in the room. Weaver checked the tracker output on the fridge. “He’s home.”
“What’s to stop it from happening again?” Goswin asked. “It happened once before, it could happen a third time, and more, and nothing can stop it.”
“You hear that beeping noise?” Weaver posed.
“Yeah?” Briar answered in the form of a question.
Weaver sucked her teeth a little. “We should go. Oh, there’s my watch.”
They climbed out of the bunker, and back onto the surface. One set of their shifted selves was standing out there already, with their version of Weaver trying to unlock the door using the secret boulder switch. “Weaver!One,” she acknowledged with a nod of her head.
“Weaver!Two,” the first Weaver replied.
“Self-destruct?”
“Had to be done.”
“How long?”
Weaver!One looked back at the steps as the hatch was closing up. “It’s soon enough. We should all go.”
“We came here for a reason,” the other Briar pointed out.
“The cons outweigh the pros,” Weaver!One tried to explain. “Now hustle off. Don’t let us get mixed up with each other.”
When Weaver!One tried to walk away, Weaver!Two took her by the arm. “Don’t go back to the Nucleus.” Her eyes darted over to the first Goswin. “One of them has taken his job a little too seriously. We barely escaped.”
“One of the Goswins?” Weaver!One asked.
“Just don’t go to the Nucleus,” she reiterated. “At least one group ended up on Dardius, where they were forced to watch some bizarre propaganda films. They’re taking the Reality Wars very seriously, they think we should join, and they have a way of keeping us from shifting away.” She didn’t say anything more about it.
The two groups separated from each other, and disappeared. At least that was what presumably happened. The first version of the crew leapt away first, leaving the newcomers’ fates in question. Perhaps they would go down into the bunker, halt the self-destruct sequence, and start the whole cycle over again. Misha Collins could spend the rest of his life being shifted back and forth to the Ediacaran period, altering future events irrevocably. It was possible that every other Weaver or Holly Blue who took her copy of the crew to that place inevitably made the same choice to destroy it, only for her plan to be unknowingly thwarted by the next copy. Time and reality were now defined by chaos. That was only meant to be the expected end state of the universe, not the beginning of it, nor the middle.
“This is where you grew up?” Eight Point Seven asked. They were standing by a pond in the middle of a small field, with a forest all around them.
“Monarch, Belgium,” Goswin confirmed. “Population: zero.”
“Your family was the only one here?” Eight Point Seven continued the interview.
“There were others...until the very end. In the late 21st century, when they started erecting all the arcological megastructures, of course most people eventually moved to them, or they wouldn’t have been successful. It was the rewilding effort that did it. As antienvironmentalists started to be turned over to death, it became easier and easier to convince people that giving the land back to nature was the only ethical choice given our technological ability to accomplish it. They left their homes, and made new ones. The cities disappeared, both in name, and in infrastructure. I believe they used to call this Ghent. Ghent didn’t get an arcology. The nearest one is closer to where Antwerp was.”
“Yet some people didn’t do that?”
“The megatowers are more environmentally friendly for sustaining the massive population of the whole planet, but it’s okay if a few choose other methods. North America had their circles, and we had our villages. We lived in arcologies too, just not gigantic ones. We lived on the land, but we didn’t live off of it, instead importing produce from vertical farms. That was my job for a time, pulling the cart of food by bicycle. That’s all I did; just pedaled back and forth from the village to the arc.” He stared at the pond. “Over and over and over and over and over again.” He paused for a few moments. “I got tired of the monotony, so I left. I had studied both history and futurology, so I knew that the villages would die out too. It was only a matter of time before kids like me decided that there were more social options in the towers. I won’t get into how I moved up to become the Futurology Administrator of the whole world, but...I’ll never forget where I came from. This is where my mother died. She wasn’t transhuman, so she only lived for 74 years. My dad underwent some treatments, but he stopped them for her. Unfortunately, I guess, it was too little too late. He still outlived her by 21 years. But not here. After the second to last person left Monarch, he left too, and moved into my cluster in the arc.”
Goswin looked up as if just remembering that he was talking to other people. “For those of you who don’t know, the arcologies are modular. Each unit is the same size, and comes with a baseline configuration, which includes a bathroom. It can be turned into a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a bedroom, or even a simulacrum of an outdoor space, among other variations. And they can be moved around, so he didn’t move into my cluster of units so much as they literally picked up my one unit, and flew it down to another slot; one that had empty units next to it, which we began to occupy together.”
“Where are we in the timeline?” Eight Point Seven asked him. “Are you still on Earth? Is your father?”
Goswin took a deep breath, and twisted Weaver’s wrist, which sported a watch that always told her the time, even when she traveled through it in the wrong direction, or at the wrong speed. “We were very precise with this jump. My younger self left with my dad fifteen minutes ago. We just had my mother’s burial ceremony.”
“Where’s her grave?” Briar asked.
Goswin actually smiled. “Over here.” He led them down the path a ways.
“Monarch butterflies,” Eight Point Seven pointed out as a few of them began to land on her arms and head.
“Our namesake,” Goswin explained. “Like I was saying, they gave all this back to nature, but they didn’t just let it grow on its own. They planted things on purpose according to a very well thought out ecology algorithm, generated by an entity such as yourself. They decided that Belgium would do well with milkweed, and with milkweed comes Monarch butterflies.” He continued through the trees until coming to another clearing. A gravestone marked the spot where his mother was laid to rest, but it wasn’t altogether necessary. A swarm of monarchs were keeping watch over it.
“It’s beautiful,” Briar couldn’t help but say. He was starting to relax into himself.
“We can’t stay,” Weaver said with a sigh. “We have to go back to the Nucleus.”
Goswin nodded gently, though no one was looking at him; they were still watching the monarchs flutter about. “I know,” he whispered.
“You heard?”
“I may look like a regular human, but I have excellent hearing.”
“Are you prepared to meet your possibly evil self?”
He took a beat, but then answered confidently with, “yes.”