Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Microstory 2073: Heck of a Lot Worse

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Woke up to a gift from my landlord this morning. No, I should say gifts. She knows that I’m starting my job at the plant nursery tomorrow, and she wanted to give me some stuff that I’ll need. I’m sure that some of this will be supplied by my employer, but it was really nice and thoughtful. She got me zip-off cargo pants, a zip-off shirt, which I had never seen before, a water reservoir to go over my shoulders, sunscreen, insect repellent, gardening gloves, a cool hat, boots, and a jacket. I’m so grateful to her for taking me in, and being so patient and understanding with me. I can’t tell her enough how much I appreciate it. I give this universe a lot of crap, but I know that it could be a heck of a lot worse. Boring is good, boring is safe. I could just as easily have ended up in a world without my immortality, and danger lurking around every corner. So this post is for you, residents of Boreverse. I’m not gonna change your name, but I’m not gonna criticize you for it anymore. Cheers, mates. I would tip my glass to you, but I don’t drink alcohol, and neither do you, which I’m really glad about. So I really shouldn’t give you a hard time. Welp, I’m off to bed much earlier tonight. I’m expected to be at work by 06:00, and I have to take the bus, which means getting up at 4:15. I don’t mind, I’ve had early jobs before, but I should have better prepared for it by starting the new schedule sooner, so my body would be used to it by now. That’s some free advice for you, kids. Social jet lag can be a real problem. Don’t let it happen to you if you can avoid it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Microstory 2072: Turtles

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Yesterday was a long one, wasn’t it? I usually find it harder to talk about myself than to write about fictional characters. I can always keep making things up about them, but it’s not so simple with my real life. But Nick, you claim that your stories are real, and you’re just relating them on your website. Yes, I did say that, didn’t I? It’s sort of a chicken or the egg situation. Except that there’s an obvious answer for that conundrum. A chicken can’t exist unless it was born from an egg, and an egg can’t exist unless it was laid by a chicken, right? That’s the whole thing, which of course ignores how evolution works. So all things being equal, the answer is that the chicken came first since a chicken can survive on its own, but an egg needs to be protected. That’s its advantage for the best answer. I came up with this when I was a little kid, and I’ve yet to hear anyone else make the same argument. Now, you may be wondering why the title of this post is Turtles when it appears to be more about chickens and eggs. That’s because I didn’t want to come up with a title for it, and I always use Turtle as a placeholder until I think of something else. You see, I write these in a word processor, so I can organize them how I like, and then copy each one over to my blog when it’s ready. I have to do a lot of formatting to make it look right, which takes nearly as much time as the writing itself. I tell you, it’s exhausting. Oh, why, do you ask, is Turtle the placeholder? It kind of sounds like the word title. Don’t overthink it. I’m not that complex. For the body of the story, until I’m ready to write it, I use Something.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Microstory 2071: Wake Up Clean

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
I just reread my post from last week, and realized that I didn’t really tell you anything about myself, since I started going on and on about how the cosmos really works. So let’s do that now, but you still don’t have to read it. I was born in central Kansas, and moved around a lot in my youth. I suppose I moved around a lot as an adult too. I was a quiet kid, and people hated that about me. Have you ever had to deal with someone yelling in your ear incessantly? It’s like that, except I don’t make any noise, and I guess some people perceive that as just as irritating? My incessant silence: it doesn’t hurt your ears, but it hurts your heart, because you have an incessant need for attention, and if you’re around someone who doesn’t give it to you, it feels like dying. I spent many years pretending to be a regular person, and many years afterwards unraveling most of that so that I could become my true self. Then I started to develop my idea of what my best self would be, and tried to work towards that.

Here are a few random facts about me. I’m left-handed. I once knew a guy who was legit mad at me for wearing my watch on my right wrist. I may be left-handed because I was born with an extra finger on my right hand, which jacked up the joints. All of my fingers are crooked, and my hands hurt literally all the time, especially when I use them, which is why it’s so great that I’m a writer, because it doesn’t require the use of hands. I like baby rhinos, and hate pandas. On principle—but not in practical terms—I don’t believe in war, national borders, money, poverty, the inherent value of work, or religion. I think sex work should be legal, and recreational drugs should be illegal. I would rather lose a competition than win it, because it will always be more important to other people, and I don’t want them to feel bad.

Here are a few random facts about you: if you’re a smoker, you’re an idiot, and a bad person. It doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished, or what your IQ is. Only a total moron would poison themselves on purpose, and only an asshole would do it in a way that potentially causes harm to others. No matter how you die, as long as it’s not an accident or something, the smoke will either cause your death, or exacerbate it. It will never help you, nor remain neutral. There’s no logical reason for it. Some people like you, and some don’t. No one is hated by all. The human body is beautiful, and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. The toilet paper goes over the top, ‘cause gravity. Some of your food contains bug parts. It’s fine.

Here’s some random advice. Find your strength in school, and focus on that. Work half as hard at the things you struggle with. You’re never gonna be as good at them as you are with your best subject, and normal people don’t need to be good at everything to succeed. If you struggle with a subject for years on end, while doing fine in others, that’s your worst subject, and it’s never going to change. Smart people don’t suddenly become that way in adulthood after being unintelligent before. Some jobs require you to be committed and driven. Most of them, however, come with bosses that aren’t paying enough attention to you to reward good behavior. Your number one job in life is to find happiness, not build profit for your company. Never forget that every company needs you more than you need it. You could survive naked in the woods with nothing but your wits. Without labor and customers, a company doesn’t exist. Life is all that matters.

Shower before bed, so your bed is clean, and you wake up clean. Wash your hands. Clean everything else too. Let your children get dirty to build up their immune system.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 11, 2432

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The next stop on their magical mystery tour of the Goldilocks Corridor was Ex-371. For the most part, the reason it was called a corridor was because the inhabited star systems were roughly in a straight line. This one was a little more out of the way. It was less than a light year away from Ex-548, which was why their ship managed to get there in time for them to return to the timestream, but it was three light years away from the next world after that. Once they left here, they would be spending a little time cooped up with nowhere to land. That shouldn’t be a problem. Depending on what resources they could find here, they were considering pushing their next pit stop even further so that Ramses would have time to build them a better vessel. They needed to investigate this world to find out whether that was a viable option. If the locals decided to attack them with missiles, or cannonballs, or whatever they had here, it might not work out that way. The map of the empire only showed them which planets were inhabited, and where they were in relation to each other. It didn’t say anything about what they were like, and even if it did, the data was already fairly outdated.
“One town?” Leona asked.
“Only the one,” Ramses confirmed. “Based on the energy readings I’m getting, they’re fusion powered, which suggests 2030s-level technology, but their architecture and layout better resemble something out of the 20th century. I think they live simplier than they need to. They have cars. They’re electric. I doubt this planet came loaded with fossil fuels. The rest of it is barren.”
“It looks like Oaksent focused primarily on atmosphere when geoengineering his slave worlds,” Olimpia guessed. “He didn’t put too much effort into any greenery.”
“He didn’t put no effort into it, though,” Leona responded. “He just prioritized some worlds over others. I saw a squirrel on Ex-275. It wasn’t just squirrel-like. It was a squirrel. Anyway, Rambo, does any building down there strike you as a City Hall, or something like that?”
He pointed. “This coin-shaped building right here. It’s unlike any of the others, and it’s right in the center.”
“All right.” Leona cleared her throat as she was holding up her tablet, just a little worried about how the team was going to react to this. “We’re starting a schedule. I hope that’s okay. I’ve assigned Vitalie and Ramses to the Vitalie!371 search. This time, I have babysitting duties on the ship, and I’ll do it alone. Everyone else will go check out that building.” They might obviously realize later that it wasn’t practical to adhere to a duty rotation when the nature of certain worlds necessitated the division of labor to be distributed in a particular way, but for now, it seemed like the most fair way to do it. No one wanted to have to stay up in orbit, but someone had to. Any given world could be hiding secret technology that could ultimately trap them there, or worse.
“That sounds good,” Mateo replied. “Did you think we wouldn’t like this?”
“I don’t know.” The truth was, she still wasn’t comfortable barking orders at people, except in an emergency. When they were in danger, and-or trying to fix a problem, it made sense to her, but just handing out responsibilities like she was middle management in an office was a little weird. It probably never wouldn’t be.
He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and stole the tablet from her hands while he said, “we got this.” He looked over the upcoming schedule. “I couldn’t help but notice that you place yourself up here more than you should. I’m getting better at pattern recognition. Why are you always alone when you do it?”
“Well, I can handle it alone.” She tried to shrug, but it wasn’t convincing.
“So can Ramses, and he’s always with someone else.”
Ramses chuckled. “This wasn’t a bad idea, but let’s all work on it together later, okay? We’ll have plenty of time to worry about it on our way to Ex-586. It’s fine for today, though.” He offered his hooked elbow. “Shall we go, Vitalie!324?”
She took his arm as if they were in a courtship, and they disappeared together.
“Keep in touch, love.” Mateo gave Leona another kiss on the cheek, and the teleported down to the surface, right in front of the entrance to the building. No one was around to see it, except for the receptionist and security guard inside, neither of whom were looking up at the time.
They opened the doors, and started to walk towards the front desk. The receptionist perked up, and stared at them. “It’s them.” He slapped the guard on the shoulder. Hey, it’s them!”
The bored guard was writing something down, or maybe just doodling. “Huh? What? Oh my God, it’s the Matics. Hey, can we get a picture?”
“Of us?” Mateo questioned.
With you,” she clarified.
The guard and receptionist turned around to face the inside of the building. The guard held the camera up, and snapped the photo. It wasn’t a phone, so she had to turn it around, and check it with the digital viewer. Oh no, Miss Sangster didn’t get all the way. Could you scootch in more, and try again?”
“Sure,” Olimpia agreed.
They took a second one.
“Ah, man,” the receptionist said with a big smile. “That’s great, thanks. You go ahead through the gates. I’ll open them for you.”
The guard met them on the other side of the optical turnstile. She pulled up her pants a little since her belt was a little heavy on the accessories. “I’ll escort you down to the main lab.”
“Pardon, but may we ask, what exactly do you do here?”
“Oh, I just help greet people when they come in in the mornings, and say farewell to them at the end of the day,” she explained. “The job is pretty easy, we don’t have a problem with people trying to break in, or cause other issues. But theoretically, I would help with that. You’re the only ones who have come in who don’t work here, besides a few people’s spouses who do other things around town. They like to have lunch in our cafeteria, because it’s the best food in the world. I mean that literally. Do you eat? Are you...robots?” She was clearly concerned that she was offending them.
“No,” Marie replied. “Yes, we eat, but we probably won’t need anything for another few days.”
“I understand. Well, it’s back through those doors, if you need it.” She never did answer what the purpose of this building was, whether it was because she didn’t know, or it wasn’t her place to say, or because she didn’t realize that they were never asking about her job specifically. “Okay. Here’s the main lab,” she said after a few minutes of walking. “I’m not allowed to go in unless it’s an emergency.” She pantomimed tipping her hat at them before realizing her mistake, and trying to brush off the awkwardness. “Okay. Bye.” She swiped her access card, and held the door open for them. I love you, Mateo thought he heard her whisper as they were stepping through the door.
They were in a wide expanse, wider than was presumably needed for what they were building here. A football pitch away, they could see the unmistakable design of a machine that they had used many times before. It was missing two walls, and as they drew nearer, they could see some other flaws, but this was definitely a Nexus. “Umm...”
Angela and Marie exchanged a look. “We’ll manage the ship,” one of them said.
“I’ll switch places with Ram,” Olimpia volunteered.
All three ladies disappeared to soon be replaced by Ramses and Leona. Wow, her duty roster was already not working for them. A woman in a pantsuit jogged up to them. “Sorry, I meant to meet you out the doors. You just came through so quick. I thought maybe they would make you badges, since that’s protocol. But, you know, it’s fine. Hi, my name is Ex-371-JM6824.”
Mateo balked. “That’s...” That wasn’t a name. It was a number. She didn’t have a name? Wait, had anyone they had met here ever had a real name? They never bothered to ask, did they? Woof, that was not very nice of them.
She eagerly awaited her response, before guessing what was stopping them. “Oh, ha. We don’t have names like you, we just have numbers. Exin Empire, planet three-seven-one, region JM, resident number six thousand, eight hundred and twenty-four. Of course, we only have one region, but...”
“So there can only be ten thousand people on this world at any one time?” Leona calculated.
“No,” she answered. “We just share names. I’m sure you’re not the only, might be the only one, but—let’s see—Angela Walton? That’s pretty common, isn’t it?” That was true enough. Though, how would she know what was and wasn’t common on Earth? This was such an isolated part of the galaxy, and their knowledge appeared to be deliberately restricted.
“Right. So, you’re building a Nexus?”
6824 nodded and sighed. “We’re certainly trying to. I don’t suppose you’ll help.”
“Sorry,” Leona said.
“That’s okay. We have the plans, it’s just...”
“Not as easy as you would think?”
“Right? It’s so detailed, and the alloys have to be mixed perfectly. This is taking us a lot longer than we hoped. But we’ll get there. It’s only our second attempt.”
“What went wrong with the first one?” Ramses asked.
She lifted a device to her lips. “Switch on the lights to sector V-26.” The loud pounding sound of harsh lights flipped on in the back corner, revealing a second Nexus building, this one not missing any sides, though they couldn’t see how completed the interior was. “It’s totally finished. Or rather, we thought it was. It powers up, drawing vacuum energy from wherever that comes from. We can even get objects to dematerialize and then rematerialize. It just doesn’t go anywhere. We can’t access the network, and we have no idea why.”
“Could we see it?” Leona asked her.
6824 presented the finished Nexus to her like a gameshow model, prompting Leona and Ramses to teleport away. Meanwhile, Mateo offered her a hand. She took it tentatively, and then they followed.
“Venus, are you there?”
No response.
“Venus Opsocor, this is your favorite idiot, Leona Matic. Please respond.”
You’re not my favorite, Venus contended.
“Gotcha. Now I know you’re here. Could you tell me why this Nexus has not been assigned a term sequence?”
They’ve not asked, Venus explained. They have to submit a request.
“That wasn’t in the plans,” 6824 argued.
It was implied.
“Can I do that now?” 6824 requested.
“Ignore that,” Leona said quickly. She frowned at the woman. “I don’t know you. Maybe you deserve a Nexus. Maybe everyone in the Corridor does. But I know that Bronach Oaksent does not, and I know that you’re building this for him. Am I right? My guess is the entire purpose of this world has been devoted to getting on the network.”
“It has not always been our purpose,” 6824 countered. “We’re a research town. We’re not the only one responsible for scientific progress, but we are always dedicated to massive undertakings. Our last one before this was the antistar containment rings.”
“What will happen to you if you fail to get on the network?” Mateo asked.
6824 frowned. “We’ll be killed.”
She’s lying.
“Thanks, Oppie,” Leona said gratefully.
“Okay, we won’t,” 6824 admitted apologetically. “There is no time limit to our progress. He doesn’t even come check up on us. He just waits for us to call him. I’ve never called him. The rings were before my time.”
“So you just keep working on it,” Mateo reasoned, “and you can never fail. There’s no risk to you?”
“I suppose not. He has too many other concerns. There’s a lot going on in the empire at any one time.”
“How are the numbers determined?” Ramses jumped in, changing the subject. “This world is Ex-371. Where does that come from? Don’t tell me that it’s random.”
“It’s not random,” 6824 said.
“So, what’s the pattern?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Are you declining to answer, or is it random, but he asked you not to say that, so you can’t answer at all?” Mateo pressed.
She still didn’t say anything, but her expression gave everything away. It was as they thought; totally random. Oaksent seeded life on these planets to be his playthings, and like all children, he eventually gets tired of playing with some of them. They were worth very little thought, even when they were otherwise important to him.
Olimpia suddenly teleported to them. “I’ve always liked the name Floriana. How about Floriana Waltz.”
“I’m sorry?” 6824 was really confused.
“You deserve a name. Everyone deserves a real name. Including your planet. So I would like to start an exponential chain. I’ll give you a name, and then you give a few other people names, and eventually everyone will have their own. Just as it should be. Then together, you can come up with a name for your planet. How does that sound?”
“Hm, I think I like it too,” Floriana agreed.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Starstruck: Crystal Clear (Part IV)

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
Over a half century into Phase Two of the project, Ex-10 messaged the crew of the Iman Vellani with the additional plans for the antistar containment rings. When Mirage asked him why the plans were changed, he told her that they weren’t. He just chose not to divulge everything all at once. She asked whether there was anything else that he wasn’t telling them yet, but he refused to respond. What a dick. Hopefully, any further changes wouldn’t disrupt their progress, or force them to alter course. Fortunately, they had not yet begun Phase Three, which involved actually building the structures using the materials that they were procuring from the nearby star systems. Even if they had, it would have probably been okay. The new plans called for an extra layer of material on the inside of the rings.
“Hypercubic crystal lattice?” Belahkay asked. “Forgive me for my ignorance, but what the hell is that?”
“No,” Mirage assured him, “you’re not the only ignorant one. I’ve never heard of it either. I know what a hypercube is, and I know what a crystal lattice is, but a hypercubic crystal lattice? Sharice, what does it say?”
“It’s a special material. Incredibly rare. They’ve only found it in two planets.”
In two planets?” Brooke echoed.
“It’s evidently only located deep in the core,” Sharice replied. “It doesn’t form naturally anywhere else. We’ll have to rip the whole thing apart to get to it.”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. What exactly is it?”
“It doesn’t say,” Sharice explained, “but if it’s what it sounds like, my guess is that it manipulates time in some way? Maybe it protects it from future or past tampering? Damn, I don’t know. There’s barely anything in this document.”
“Well, how far away is the nearest world that has this stuff?”
“Uhh, 707 light years,” Sharice answered.
“It will take us exactly one year to get there with the reframe engine. How convenient. Belahkay, how are the automators?”
It was his job to manage all of the machines that were spread throughout this sector of the galaxy. He synthesized error reports, and coordinated arrangements to get the project back on track. “It’s been four months since the last issue, and that one wasn’t that big of a deal, we just lost a chunk of one planet. It wouldn’t have slowed down the project.”
“You can keep an eye on the progress on the ride. We’ll all go to this magical fourth-dimensional planet, and see what we see.”

A year later, the Vellani was in orbit over the planet, which they discovered to be inhabited. Ubiquitous plant life was visible with the naked eye. There were billions of bodies of water, and evidence of seasonal shifts. The surface gravity was decently suitable for human life. Oh yeah, and there was human life there. A small settlement was found, and a closer look proved that people were currently living there. Something had happened somewhat recently, though. Most of the buildings had been severely damaged in an explosion. A few of the structures, which had been built farther from the apparent epicenter, managed to stay whole, including a perimeter fence. There was also one more thing that they saw when they zoomed in.
“It’s a time mirror,” Mirage noted.
“People are coming out of it, one by one,” Belahkay noticed.
“They’re armed,” Brooke pointed out. “They’re either about to attack the settlement, or protect it from someone else’s attack.”
“Can they see us? Do they think that we’re a threat?” Sharice asked, worried.
“I see no sign of space observation technology. We’re shielded by the daylight.”
Belahkay pointed at the screen. “Oh, look at that.”
A figure was running out of the ruins of the bombed out settlement. It ran straight through the gate of the fence, and towards the mirror. Just before it could make it through, the mirror exploded. “Whoa!” they all shouted in unison. The explosion sent everyone flying in all directions, no one farther from it than the person who had been running towards it. They were thrown all the way across the field, over the fence, across the interior field, and then back into the ruins of the settlement. There was no way that person survived that.
“Oh my God, what did we just witness?” Sharice asked, horrified.
Determined, Mirage stepped over to the corner, opened a secret compartment, and revealed a cache of weapons.
“Those have been here the whole time?” Brooke scolded.
“Yes, mom. Here’s yours.” She tried to hand her one of the rifles.
“No. Never again.”
Mirage tried to hand it to Sharice, who also refused, as did Belahkay. She growled. “If you don’t arm up, you’re not going down to the surface.”
“Stop us,” Brooke goaded. Then she disappeared.
Sharice looked at Mirage awkwardly, and then followed her mother. Belahkay stepped over and reached into the cache. He took out a handgun, and hid it inside his vest. “I got your back.”
They teleported down together, meeting the other two in the crowd of bodies near where the mirror once stood. They fanned out, and approached a body each. “Ex-088-GL0821,” Mirage called out.
“Ex-088-GL0403,” Sharice returned.
“Where I’m from,” Belahkay said, “this patch would be for the wearer’s name.”
“Yeah. I think it’s the same for them. These people belong to the Exin Empire, almost surely some kind of military force.”
“Ex-10 must be pretty important if he’s as low a number as he is, and these guys are named in nine figures,” Sharice decided.
“I imagine it’s far more complicated than just one through a billion,” Brooke guessed.
“I don’t have your fancy sensors. Are they all dead?” Belahkay asked.
“Yeah, they are,” Mirage confirmed. “No human lifesigns. So unless one of them is an alien, we should go into the ruins, and see if anyone there is still alive.”
They teleported away to find four people. The woman from the mirror explosion was lying on her back on the ground, just as they saw her. They thought that she had landed on the other side of a statue, but it was gone, and another woman was lying face down on top of her. She was completely naked. They were both breathing, but cut up from the glass that they shared, embedded in their skin. Two children were huddled together nearby.
“Sharice, take the wounded up to the infirmary, and place them each in a medical pod. Then you can come back. I’ll keep an eye on them from here.”
Of all of them, Brooke was the softest. She cautiously went over to the children. “Hey. It’s okay. We’re not gonna hurt you. Are these your parents?”
The kids were six, maybe seven years old, but they didn’t seem too terribly scared. The boy shook his head. He gently elbowed the girl in the arm. She pulled something out of her pocket, and held it up. It was a rock.
“You want me to have this?” Brooke asked. She carefully stepped forward, and took it from the girl.
“My mom’s in there,” the boy said.
Brooke moved it around in her hand, and then reached back to hand it to Mirage.
“It’s a homestone.” Mirage bent over, and looked the boy in the eyes. “Did you use this to get here, or were you going to use it to go somewhere else?”
She used it to get here,” the boy explained. He took a rock out of his own pocket. “I used this one. I came alone. She came with my mom.”
“Don’t mix them up,” Mirage advised. “Homestones are identical. We’re not even sure that it’s not just the same stone at different points in spacetime. If one of them contains his mom, we have to work with the right one.”
“It could contain his mom?” Brooke questioned. “How’s that?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never heard of it, but I believe him. If he says that the girl and her mother came together, then something must have happened to the mom.”
“She’s not her mother,” the boy corrected. “She’s my mother, but we’re not siblings. It’s just that we both first traveled through time at the same time.”
“I see,” Mirage said. “You sound older than you look.”
“It’s been several years for me,” the boy—or rather, the young man—explained. “She’s older than she looks too, but even when she was older, she looked young.
Mirage nodded, and turned to the other three. “The homestone takes you back to where you were when you first experienced nonlinear time. It reyoungifies you to the age that you were, but it doesn’t undo history. It potentially gives you a second chance at life, but whatever originally happened after that moment still took place in the timeline.” She sighed, and looked over the girl’s stone. “You can take passengers with you, but it’s not the safest way to travel. Again, I’ve never heard of someone getting stuck, but I can’t rule it out.” She turned back to the young man. “Can I take this to test it?”
He nodded.
“What are your names?” Brooke asked.
“I’m Aristotle. This is Niobe Schur.”
Niobe cupped her hands over Aristotle’s ear.
“She can talk,” he told the crew. “She just doesn’t like to meet new people. When she gets to know you, she’ll warm up to you.”
“Well, what did she say?” Belahkay asked him.
“She doesn’t go by a name anymore. She goes by a number. I’m trying to fix that.”
“So this planet is in the Exin Empire,” Mirage reasoned.
Aristotle’s eyes narrowed. “No. This belongs to the Extremusians. The Exins are just the ones who kidnapped us, and forced us to live in the Goldilocks Corridor.”
“My mistake,” Mirage said apologetically.
“The women you took up to your ship,” Aristotle went on. “One of them is First Chair Tinaya Leithe. She’s very important. I don’t know who the naked one is.”
“Aristotle! Niobe!” A third adult woman was running towards them from a path that went through the forest behind the settlement. “Oh my God!”
The crew stepped back instinctually to make themselves look less like a threat.
The woman hugged the children, and frowned at the crew, trying to stop crying. “I saw the patches. You’re Oaksent’s people.”
Mirage shook her head. “We’re not part of them. Well, to be fair, we work for them, but we had no idea they came here. We were not told that this was a populated planet. They asked us to procure a rare component for something we’re building for them due to a debt that must be paid.”
“Another weapon of theirs, no doubt,” the woman spit.
Mirage sighed. “It’s possible. It’s possible in the way that a car can be used as a weapon if the driver chooses that.”
“We mean you no harm,” Brooke added. “Your friends are healing on our ship.”
The woman wiped tears from her eyes, and looked at the young man. “I thought that they had taken you. I couldn’t find you. No more hide-and-seek. It’s too dangerous.”
“We were taken, mom,” Aristotle said to her sadly. “The Captain rescued us, but when she tried to take us back through the mirror, we didn’t end up on the Extremus.” He paused. “We’re from the future. He handed her his homestone.”
“You’re his mother?” Mirage asked.
“She’s my Past!Mother,” Aristotle explained. “My Future!Mother, from the other timeline, she is indeed in that stone. I can feel her.”
The mother stood up straight, and composed herself. “My name is Lilac. Can you get my alternate self out of there?”
“I can try,” Mirage answered. “ I promise nothing, but I have cloning tech in the Vellani. Your DNA would do us a lot of good in that department if your alt has lost her original substrate.”
Lilac pulled her sleeves up. “Take however much blood you need.”
They all teleported up to the ship in orbit. While Belahkay monitored the other women’s progress in the medical pods, Mirage started to take readings from the homestone. They needed to find out if a consciousness really was trapped in there, and whether it was intact. Sharice took her own mother aside for a private conversation. “It’s clear to me that we can’t take this hypercubic lattice stuff out of the core of this world. The only way to extract it is to destroy the whole thing.”
“I know,” Brooke agreed. “I just accessed the updated records. The Extremus launched from Gatewood, and is moving at maximum reframe. It’s literally impossible for us to ever catch up to it. I think they had a time mirror on board, and were using that to travel back and forth through a portal. If these people don’t want to leave with us, they’ll have to stay here. This is their world, we have no right to it. More to the point, the Exins don’t have any right.”
“What do we do?”
“We protect them, at all costs. If Mirage’s explanation of how the homestones work is right, those military guys connected to this mirror from a different point in time. That’s probably what blew it up; they got the wires crossed. If we can stop them from ever attempting to override the original connection—”
“We can prevent the attack on the settlement,” Sharice guessed.
“That woman,” Brooke began, “the...First Chair. She knows something. She was running for that mirror for a reason. We need to talk to her when she wakes up.”
“She’s awake,” Belahkay announced.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Microstory 2070: Godlings All The Way Down

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I’m sorry about bummin’ you all out yesterday. I’ve just been thinking a lot about my past, and my life. Why don’t I tell you a little bit about it? ‘Kay? You can read it or not. Like Superman, I grew up in Kansas. And like Superman, I had superpowers. But unlike Superman, these powers weren’t useful for flying around, rescuing people. They gave me glimpses into other worlds, which allowed me to write their stories down, and pass them off as fiction. I eventually realized that some of these stories were taking place in a universe that was located inside of my very soul. You see, that’s what all inhabited universes are; the complex development of a person’s soul, who you might call a god. We are all gods with godlings, and all godlings are gods. It’s godlings all the way down. No one knows where it ends, and no one knows where it begins. Some may want to answer such profound philosophical questions, but I am not one of them, because it would not change the way I live my life, which has always been a little less than the best I can. I’m not what you would call responsible or productive. I’ve not written any stories for a long time, because that’s not me anymore. I no longer have access to those worlds. If I did, I would be able to find Cricket and Claire. My alternate self could. He probably knows exactly where they are, and I bet he’s telling their continued story without me. He used to be able to send me messages, which we called updates, but your boring planet locks all those out. My own story is still getting out to him, but I’m lost. Alone. With all of you.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Microstory 2069: There Are No Winners

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I’m feeling bad again, but it has nothing to do with my recent infections. I’m a week away from my first day on the job at the garden, and I’m getting really nervous about it. I’ve been worshiping the porcelain god, as they say. Can you imagine what a real porcelain god would be like? Of course you can’t, you gave up religion a long time ago, because it was too interesting. That’s one upside to living on this Earth, I guess. You somehow lost the curiosity gene, but at least you don’t believe in a flying spaghetti monster. I was hoping that I would be less anxious, since I’ve not encountered very many surprising people, except for those two alien believers, but my stomach has a different idea. When I’m not running from my life, like I was when Cricket, Claire, and I were hopping all over the multiverse, I’m anxious all the time. That’s me, I’m full of anxiety. Well, that and depression. I hear “brave” people in the public eye talking about how their mental health issues are things that they’ve been battling. But for me, it has always just been suffering. It’s not a fight, it’s survival. There are no winners. All I can really do—after the medication wears off, and the therapists close the door—is get through the day. Then I get five or six hours of sleep, and wake up to get through the next day. Listen to me, being all moody and broody about life. It’s not all that bad. It’s not like I can remember every bad thing that has ever happened to me, and I can’t remember many of the good things. That would be crazy, right? Ha. Right? Who could survive that?

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Microstory 2068: Tongueball It

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I’m feeling much better, thank you very much. It’s been pretty hard to get to sleep, which has sometimes been all right, because I’ve not had anywhere to go, but that hasn’t been true every single day since I got here. I’ve had an itchy and sore throat, so I cough, and then just make it even more sore. I believe that my landlord can’t hear me all the way up here, but I don’t know that for sure, and I’m afraid to ask her. I probably should ask her, though, since she would be able to explain it. My guess is that, when I lie down, fluids start moving in different directions, which is why it hurts more, but I don’t really know. She’s been off work for the last few days, and as a medical professional, in a particularly high need of a real good night’s rest every time, she should be able to expect me to work hard to put a stop to my constant disruptions. I generally don’t like to take drugs, but I’ll do it when I have to. When I was in my mid-twenties(?) I didn’t know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. I thought I was taking twice the recommended amount of nighttime cough syrup, but it turned out to be six times. It’s the only time I was ever intoxicated. I did not like it one bit, and I’ve never repeated the incident. Until last night, sort of. The tiny bottle of the strong stuff that my landlord had didn’t have any sort of fill cup. There wasn’t much left, so I figured I could eyeball five milliliters—or rather, tongueball it—but I was wrong. I ended up with twice the amount, but didn’t get to sleep any easier, and I never felt drunk. I probably really should have asked her about it, huh? It’s not my fault, I took too much cough syrup!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Microstory 2067: Something Less Monogamous

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Another one answered my ad in the paper, even though I only bought space on the one day. I left my new email address, though, so strangers could be emailing me over the course of the next few centuries if they wanted. Since I’m not a real person, I’ve not built up enough history to be getting many other emails, so I’m not worried about being inundated, or anything. It’s not like it will clog up my inbox, and make it harder to keep up with interesting news articles. Since, ya know, you don’t really have those here. Moving on, the woman I spoke to on the phone isn’t an alien, and doesn’t think she is. She’s just kind of an alien groupie. This was an apparent truth from the start, that she wants to meet me in person because of who I claim to be, but I kept talking to her, because what if I’m not the first? If she’s already done the work of finding people like me, I might as well nurture this relationship. I don’t want to lead her on, though. Cricket is in another universe right now—hopefully a very safe one, but cheating is cheating, and I am no cheater. The way I see it, if you’re committed to someone monogamously, and you want to connect with someone else, either turn your current partnership into something less monogamous, or leave them. It’s not fair that you get to have whatever you want at anyone else’s expense. Your happiness is not all that matters. I don’t want to be with anyone but him, in any capacity, and even if I did, I couldn’t do anything about it, because I’m not capable of having a conversation with him about it first. And anyway, I don’t know who this woman has met, or if they’re the real deal. Will stay in contact with her just the same, just like with the guy before.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Microstory 2066: Just Backpedal a Little

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Had a good meeting with my social worker today. I was coughing a lot, but we were both wearing masks, and he apparently always walks around with this foldable clear plastic partition. I’m not the only client of his who has health issues. I just hope I get over mine soon, and adapt better to this world. I didn’t tell him any of this, but I’m just now realizing that I told him that I’ve been keeping a blog, and gave him a link, so he’ll be able to read all of this. I’ve already talked a lot about how I believe I’m from a different universe. Maybe I could just backpedal a little, and tell him that it’s fiction, and this is all nothing more than a creative outlet. But he would be able to read this installment too, which apparently negates that explanation. Maybe I’ll just schedule this to post near the end of the evening. I don’t expect he’ll read this far anyway. It’s not like this is brilliant writing. Then again, the newest post will always be at the top, and I’ve spoken to people back when I was writing my fictional stories who just read that most recent one, and then stopped. So the newest one always has to be the best. But even then, it’s often taken completely out of context. I am trying to paint you a picture here. You can’t start in the middle, and expect to form a reasonable opinion on my skill, can you? No, that would be unfair. Start at the beginning, or don’t start at all. No, don’t do that. That’s what most people do. Five billion people in the world, and the number of people who actually read my ish adds up to a rounding error. Just kidding, it’s zero, with a margin of error of zero also. Yay, me! Whatever. Anyway, I got a second hit on my ad. She doesn’t claim to be an alien, but she hasn’t said she isn’t yet. I’m calling her tonight. Audio only.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 10, 2431

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Once everyone was back in the ship, Ramses plotted a course to Ex-42, and launched. As they were standing there, Mateo looked over at Vitalie!324, who seemed to be deep in thought. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking, or even what she was feeling, since she wasn’t part of the empathy circle, but he took a guess. “We’re going the wrong way.”
Ramses was taken aback. “Leona, could you check my math?”
“No, your math is fine,” Mateo started to clarify. “I mean, I don’t know that it is, but it always has been. I just mean, I think we’re going to the wrong place. How many populated planets did you say were on the way to Ex-42?”
“Thirty-one,” Leona reminded him.
“That’s thirty-one planets who could all do with a little extra...vitality.”
Vitalie hadn’t been paying that much attention, but she recognized the play on her name. “Wait, what? No, you don’t have to stop at all those other worlds on my account. Let’s go find your bad guy.”
“Hm,” Leona said. “Thirty-one worlds means an extra seven days on our mission. That’s not that big a deal.”
“Well, who knows what you’re gonna run into on the intervening planets?” Vitalie argued. “One of them might end up stopping you from being able to reach it. No, the safest course of action is to go straight there.” She shoved her open hand forwards from her nose.
“It could be a trap,” Angela reasoned. “Maybe that’s not where the archive is at all. Maybe it’s an inescapable prison planet. Going to the other worlds is strategically logical. We can’t lose the information that we have. We can only gain more.”
“That’s true,” Leona agreed. “So we wouldn’t be going just for the other versions of you, Vita. There are other reasons to make stops. Again, it’s a week out of the way.”
“It’s seven years,” Vitalie argued. “I think you lot tend to forget that. Everyone else moves on without you, and a lot can happen in that extra time. Ex-42 might be destroyed by the time we make it there if we go on every detour available. Hell, the Prime Minister might have sent a relativistic kill missile to beat us there.”
Marie shrugged. “If he sent a missile tomorrow, it would beat us there anyway. Hell, he could be on the quantum phone with them right now, instructing them to detonate their self-destruct, and then we would end up the whole twenty-four years too late. Time jumps or not, it’s a risk.”
Mateo placed a hand on Vitalie’s shoulder. “We’ll make one stop every day. There, we’ll resupply, if needed, maybe help a few people, and yes, we’ll also find your alternate self’s stasis pod, and let her out. If not us, then who?”
“Don’t think of it as being selfish,” Olimpia reasoned. “They’re not really you anymore. You’re helping your sisters.” She gestured towards Angela and Marie, who were also alternates of the same person, but now thought of each other as twin sisters.
Vitalie nodded in concession. “Okay. Where are we going instead, then?”
Ramses pulled up the map. “Ex-548. Gah, I can’t figure out the pattern here. It’s buggin’ the shit out of me,” he lamented
“Ex-548 ho!” Mateo declared, standing tall, and pointing towards the back wall.
They all stared at him. Leona glanced over at Ramses, and nodded slightly. Ramses went over to the controls, and altered course. The Goldilocks Corridor was named such that the stars with habitable planets were all laid out in a relatively straight line, so he only had to adjust a little bit.

A year later, they were in orbit over Ex-548. During the interim year, the ship took readings of the surface. No signals were being sent out into space, or within the atmosphere. There were signs of civilization, but no sign of movement. This planet was either abandoned, or the inhabitants were living underground.
“Or they’re all dead,” Olimpia offered.
“Yeah,” Leona agreed. “They could be dead. Mateo, you found Vitalie!908, so I’ll look for her this time. Olimpia, you wanna come with me?”
“Sure,” she answered.
“Hubby, it’s your turn to stay on the ship. Marie, you know enough about this stuff to stay with him in case something goes wrong up here. The rest will go down and see what’s up with what apparently used to be populated areas.”
“There are-slash-were five major settlements here,” Ramses reported. “We can split up, and—”
“Nope,” Leona interrupted. “Ram, Vitalie, and Angela, go together, and stay together. You have the most dangerous job, so I don’t want to shrink the numbers any more than they already are. We’re getting faster at finding the stasis pod, so I’m sure we’ll join you pretty quickly.”
“Ready...” Olimpia began, “...break.”
A couple of hours in, Leona and Olimpia were still trying to triangulate the stasis pod, having underestimated how difficult it would be. In his spare time, Ramses had been trying to figure out how to track them directly, but they weren’t designed to be located like a GPS beacon. It was also possible in this case that word had gotten around about the team’s interference in the goings-on of the Exin Empire that someone decided to dig her up, and do something else with her. Maybe they tossed her into the host star, or just released her, and then shot her in the head. They would keep trying all day either way.
The settlement group was on the ground too, looking for an explanation for why no one seemed to live here anymore. When they were last here, the natives were living under turn of the 21st century Earth conditions, though they weren’t anywhere near that population size. Each settlement was the size of a town small enough for rumors to spread faster than sound, but large enough for a resident to meet someone as an adult who they had never heard of before. They were thousands of kilometers apart, on separate continents. None of the homes appeared to be locked, so they entered a few to get an idea of what may have happened here. There wasn’t any rotten food on the dinner table, or showers left running. There were also no signs of struggle, or hurried packing. Whatever the cause, it wasn’t sudden. The people had time to leave the lights off, and the doors closed. They left on purpose, and based on the level of dust, the computer estimated that it happened about a year ago. The interesting part was that all of the settlements were left in the same state, which meant that they all agreed to leave at the same time. The team just kept looking for answers.
Meanwhile, up on the ship, Mateo and Marie were in realspace, instead of the pocket dimension. They were lying down back to back in the tiny habitable section, admiring the view through the ports. “Hey, are your comms off?” Mateo asked.
“Output is off. Input is in cocktail mode.” Cocktail mode kept the conversations silent for the user unless someone else on the network used any out of a list of preselected keywords, like their names, or emergency.
Mateo didn’t continue right away. “Do you ever think about...?”
“Think about what?”
“Sorry, if that’s too sensitive of a topic.”
“No, it’s okay. I know I don’t talk about him enough. I mean he’s still my husband, and I should think about him more. I just...I don’t. I don’t know why. I know we left things in a bad place, but I think if I let myself dwell on it, I’ll see that I’m the bad guy. I left him long before he left me. I was never really committed to that relationship. I just never realized it until he had the courage to walk away. Don’t get me wrong, I still love him, but I’m a part of this team, and he’s not. He never wanted to be. He stayed as long as he did for me, but he has his own life to live. Could we have reconciled, and gotten back together?” She sighed. “Probably. Neither one of us tried very hard, and then we both all but died. It just that chapter was over. I wanna be here, with all of you. I have no clue how he feels about it at this point. I hope he’s okay.”
“I hope so too.”
“Sometimes I wish I had just been alone during the four years before you showed up. It would have been easier. No attachments, no complications. I’m not blaming him for anything, but how would things have turned out if we could have just come back together as a team?”
“It could have been worse,” he pointed out. “I mean, I know it would have been worse if you had been alone. If you had ever recovered from that isolation, it still would have weighed on you for the rest of your life. I think, in the end, it was a good thing that you met him, even with the complications. I doubt our shared experience in the Third Rail for that year would have been improved by deleting him from the roster.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” she agreed.
“You’ll see him again. We always do.”
“Really?” She chuckled. “When was the last time you saw—I dunno—your mother, or that nanobot intelligence who tried to kill you near the beginning of your time traveling?”
He laughed with her. “Mirage? It’s been about since back then. I suppose you’re right; we don’t see everyone from our past again.”
Is everyone on?” Olimpia asked through comms.
Everyone confirmed according to a predetermined order, so they would not talk over one another.
Jump to our location, including Group Breakthrough. The ship will be fine on its own. There’s no one here. Not anymore.
Leona and Olimpia were found standing next to Vitalie!548’s stasis pod in the middle of nowhere. It was leaning slightly to the left, open and empty, with dirt and sand piled up inside. “Now we know why it took us so long to find it.”
Ramses nodded. “It’s inactive, which incidentally shrinks its networking capabilities to a smaller radius. No reason to place two empty pods in sync.”
“Why were you able to find it at all?” Angela asked them.
“It’s still powered on, just enough to maintain coherence for this message, of which we only watched the beginning.” Leona reached in, and pressed a button.
At first, nothing happened. Then a hologram of Vitalie appeared from outside of frame, and turned around. She composed herself, running a finger through her hair as if she had intended to edit the very beginning out before uploading the final cut. “My name is Vitalie Crawville. I came to this planet long ago, and placed myself in stasis while I waited for the world to be populated. Unfortunately, someone else got to me before the population could. He overpowered me, and put me back in permanently. At least, I think it was supposed to be permanent. Later, probably due to geological activity, my pod was exposed enough to be discovered by the natives. They figured out how to free me, and I explained to them that my purpose here was to be their Caretaker.
“This was a peaceful world. For the most part, they didn’t need me to take care of them. Yet I stayed, and did what I could. It’s not like I had anywhere else to go. This was my only purpose. As it turned out, I was not the only thing that the Leighstens had found. They were a curious bunch, and as it happens, every inhabited world in this sector contains a hidden central computer, regardless of the level of advancement they are allowed to attain. Apparently, the Leighstens were an early experiment to make sure that the seeding process was viable. I have reason to believe that the godking who did this started a couple of similar experiments before he got it right, so you may encounter those during your travels. Once an experiment was over, he would abandon the project, because to him, the survivors were insignificant. We do not contribute to the Empire in any way, not anymore. I suppose we should be glad that we weren’t simply exterminated. Most of the details that would illuminate the full story were encrypted, but the computer was made to receive some news from other worlds, so we were able to keep up with current events.
“Team Matic, I know that you’re the ones watching this. Only you would have been granted access to this file. Out of concern for the Leighstens’ safety, I have made drastic arrangements for their protection. You will not find us, and more importantly, neither will Bronach Oaksent. Do not look into this matter further. I am doing my job. I am taking care of them. It hurts my heart to say that I would not be able to accomplish this if I didn’t keep them away from you. You are...irritants. You shuffle shit up and you make changes. You do it everywhere you go. Sometimes you succeed, and just make things worse. The Exins will retaliate, and that may result in a scorched policy. Honestly, Oaksent is nothing if not unpredictable. We’re not the only ones getting the news feed. They know you’re here now, and each next world will have one year more than the world before to prepare for your arrival. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do whatever it is you’re trying to do, but I can’t let the Leighstens get caught in the line of fire. Please leave now. This pod will self-destruct in five seconds.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Leona assured the team. “The first thing I did was disable the triggering mechanism. We’ll still blow it up, but I know that Ramses likes to scavenge for parts.”
“No,” Vitalie!324 insisted. She turned away. “Destroy it all please.”