Thursday, February 29, 2024

Microstory 2094: This New Life Chapter

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I’ve been missing my family. I’ve told you lies about them, like how they live in a different universe, but I’ve also told you some true things, including the fact that a lot of them are teachers, and that my parents liked to log the number of kids who came to their house for Halloween. Don’t worry, it’s not like there’s anything bad between us, but I flew the nest years ago, and I never went back. I was being rebellious, and wanted to exert my independence, and for the longest time, I felt like I couldn’t return, even just to enjoy a Sunday brunch with them, because I thought it would look like I was a failure. I still talk to them, but we’re not nearly as close as we used to be. I think I would like to change that. Things are in motion. I spoke with them on the phone earlier today, and asked if I could visit them. They insisted that they come see me here instead. They say that nothing has changed about where they live, or the way that they live, so they want to see where I am, and how I’m doing. I think that’s okay, even though things aren’t super great right now. They needed a day to get their affairs in order, but they’ll be flying in tomorrow, late morning. I’m going to rent a car to meet them at the airport. I was worried that my social worker wouldn’t like it, because I’m not really supposed to travel, but he actually encouraged it. He thought that I would need closure, or something, but I see it as a new beginning more than anything. I’ll let you know how it goes, but my next blog chapter will probably not be long, since I’ll be too busy writing this new life chapter.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Microstory 2093: Not Depressed At All?

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I’ve been going through some stuff. I dealt with a lot when I first came, and then I got sick multiple times. The last one was the roughest illness I’ve ever experienced, and I contracted staph infections four times in my adult life! Going to the hospital to get the parasite taken out of me was a huge wake up call, but the problem is I’m still proverbially bleary-eyed. I don’t know who I am anymore, or what I’m supposed to do. It’s not like working at the nursery was ever my calling, but it was pleasant, and I enjoyed it. I guess I’m not even really talking about a job specifically. I just...I don’t know who I am; that’s the best way to put it. Everyone I’ve met here has been so great to me, and so helpful. I required quite a bit of patience, and I appreciate how difficult that must have been for them. I’ve been able to save up about 1500 dollars so far, because my landlord has been buying my groceries, I don’t have to pay utilities, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have any other responsibilities. That’s not bad, but it’s not nearly enough for me to start my life over from scratch. I need to find something else, and I need to do it fast. It’s just been hard to even go for it, ya know? I’m depressed. It’s not the first time, but it’s particularly bad this time. I was hoping that I was on my way to getting over it since I was separated from the love of my life, Cricket, but now I’ve backslid. I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m down again. I’ve grown so used to it that it’s become my resting state. Joy is something that I can fathom, because there are times when I’m less depressed than other times. But not depressed at all? Is that even a thing? I’ve genuinely never been sure about that. I was a full-on adult before I realized that normal people do not wake up nauseated every morning. I just thought that everyone went through the same thing, so I didn’t usually bother telling doctors my concerns. Even when I did bring it up, they would always brush it aside like it was nothing, until one of them was all, “you have acid reflux, dude. Gravity works against you when you’re lying down.” Just knowing that made it easier to get through the day, even when I didn’t actually do anything to correct the problem. There’s no simple fix for my sadness, though, except for drastic measures. The only way I have ever figured out how to get out of a funk is to make a huge change in my life. Of course, that usually causes anxiety vomiting, but with the right over-the-counter medicine, and personal behaviors, I can alleviate those symptoms too. I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet, but sitting around and sulking is decidedly not it. Getting yet another job for which I’m barely qualified is also not the answer. Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Microstory 2092: I’m Finally Back Home

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I’m profoundly tired today, as I’ve been for the last week. Or rather, I guess I’ve been tired for weeks, haven’t I, because of the parasite? It’s been taking a lot of energy from me, which should have been my first indication that something was wrong, even if I really did believe that I was an alien from another universe. I can’t eat enough, and I can’t sleep enough. Today is different, though. I’ve been released from the hospital specifically because the parasite has been vanquished, but it was just a hard day, so all of those kinds of symptoms are still around, just now for different reasons. Before I could be released, I had to meet with all sorts of people; I can’t even name them all. Doctors, nurses, a patient advocate (who was more advocating for the hospital). The pharmacist came upstairs to tell me how the drugs that they had prescribed me worked, so that was nice of her. At some point, a class of med students showed up, but they didn’t spend very much time with me, since it was my last day. Not everyone who came in was good. Two lawyers snuck into my room in case I wanted to sue my boss. I’m not entirely sure how they found out about what happened, but I don’t appreciate my private story being—oh, wait, I’m the one who told them, aren’t I? I’ve been telling my story this whole time on this blog, inviting all sorts of characters to come into my life, and give me their two cents. That’s okay, I could sure use the money, right? Anyway, I’m finally back home, and about to go to bed. I have to set my alarm every hour and a half to take my medicine. It’s going to be hard to get real sleep, but as I’ve already said, I don’t have to go back into work anymore, so I guess I’ll just stay here until I end up with a total of eight hours.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Microstory 2091: Sometimes, Stuff Just Happens

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One thing I failed to mention in my last post is that the infection that messed with my mind didn’t just make me think that I was a traveler from another world with the power to destroy cosmic portals. My entire reasoning for doing so was flawed. My co-worker went missing, and the idea that something supernatural was going on with that buried itself into my brain alongside the parasite. I started imagining other disappearances in order to justify my own obsession with it. No one else has gone missing since. Well, I mean, of course they have; people go missing every day... Or, actually, do they? Maybe this universe isn’t interesting enough for things like that to happen. No, I’m slipping again. This is my world, and it’s the only world. There are no others; I have to keep reminding myself of that. The hospital has insisted that I stay here one more night, to make sure that the chemicals that poisoned my mind are completely flushed from my system. I need to make sure I don’t say things like that, so they don’t think I’ve backslid. I’m not going to delete the sentence above, though, because I want to be honest, and show them my integrity. I made another mistake, and I’ll own that. I’ll own all of my mistakes, and I think that everyone should try to live their lives like that. My boss has admitted her own, though I’m not sure that any of it is here fault. She feels bad that I was infected at her nursery, and she may or may not be worried that I’ll sue her for negligence, or something like that. I don’t want to do that, though. I just want to get healthy, and move past this. Everyone reacts differently to the world around them, and I’m the only one who was negatively affected by the parasite. Who knows how many people go home from there with terrible allergic reactions, but never make the connection, because sometimes, stuff just happens. Still, she’s done a nice thing by paying me for the week that I missed as a result of my illness, as well as this current week, even though I won’t be attempting to go back, and in fact, will never be able to work there again. I am unmatched to the environment, and will need to find a job elsewhere. I really appreciate her doing that for me, though, so I can stand a little on my own feet until I do find something else. Obviously, I’ve put all plans for major purchases on hold, which means until later to the bike, the apartment, and my own computer. I’m still grateful to my landlord too, who has stood by me throughout all of this. She’s the one who got me the medical attention that I needed, and I’ll never be able to repay her for it. As soon as I get out of here, though, I’m going to find a new job, and start trying.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 15, 2436

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The new ship was done. The holographic projectors were up and running, making them look like something else entirely. Reminiscent of holodecks from the Star Trek franchise, a magnetic field of equivalent dimension gave it the impression of physical size, for when light was not enough. If someone, for instance, were to shoot a missile at a section of it that didn’t technically exist, it would not simply pass through it, but interact with this field, reinforcing the lie that they were bigger than they really were. In honor of this inspired technology, Ramses chose the USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as their first hologram. It was a warship, so it looked a bit menacing, but was also relatively small. They couldn’t make it look as large as something like the Death Star, because the truth would be too easy to detect. There were a few other fictional ships that Ramses, and other members of the team, wanted to try, but they would eventually transition into original models. It wasn’t super likely that anyone in the Exin Empire had ever seen anything of these things, but there was always a chance.
This was an important test, because while the resort planet they just went to had no orbital infrastructure, Ex-666 did. It wasn’t much, but it was there, and it was trying to destroy them. Leona and Ramses both stayed on board so they could outrun it. For now, they were doing just fine with that. The defense satellite was apparently not designed to attack, but to prevent unauthorized entry. With this clearly being a penal colony, that made a hell of a lot of sense. So they were just going to keep away from it, and only fight back if the situation grew tiresome. Generally speaking, they did not operate on ships with weapons, but the Dorsch had an offensive system that they could use if they had no other choice. Ramses still had his eyes set on something brand new, advanced, and tailored specifically for their needs, but they weren’t going to find help on Ex-666, so that was still a dream for another day.
The rest of the team took the dropship down to investigate the surface. They didn’t want to teleport while they were being so closely watched, because they still didn’t know how ubiquitous such abilities were in this region of space. It could look too suspicious. The satellite may have called in reinforcements from somewhere, and who knew how quickly that would happen? Their only real concern was finding Vitalie!666, but it seemed ridiculous to not at least try to communicate with the locals. They were worried it would go terribly, and now was the moment of truth. “Good evening, folks. We are refugees from Ex-741. Have you, perchance, heard of it?” Mateo asked. At present, he looked like James Van Der Beek, because that was the only form he found himself able to maintain for extended periods of time for some reason. Again, hopefully no one here knew enough Earth pop culture to recognize him.
“We’ve heard of Ex-741,” one woman replied. “Why would you need to be a refugee from there? Weren’t you just engineers and technicians?”
“They were technicians,” Mateo lied, pointing to Angela, who looked like her finishing school teacher, and Marie, who looked like Marie Antoinette. “I was a janitor. She was a singer,” he added, pointing to Olimpia, who looked like a woman she had a crush on while she was still living in society on Earth.
“Singer? The dockyard had singers?”
“We need entertainment too. Anyway—” He had this whole explanation about how Ex-741 was going to be destroyed, and they were the last to escape, but they got lost in space, but these people didn’t seem to care.
“Sing something,” the woman insisted.
“Well, she doesn’t have to do it on comman—” Mateo started to say, but he was interrupted yet again.
“No problem.” Olimpia started to sing, using that positively gorgeous voice that the other five had forgotten she had, because she did not do this often enough. The locals were just as enamored by it. More started walking up when they heard it. They all clapped profusely after she was finished singing Ex:Re’s The Dazzler.
The woman from before smiled and nodded. “You’ve landed in the right place. This is where the Chief Ascendant lives. He’ll want to meet you.” She looked over to a teenager nearby. “Go gather some wagmen.” The young man ran off, and when he returned with five men who were rolling a wagon by hand, the woman rolled her eyes. “I meant pedal wagmen, son. These are honored guests.”
“Wait,” Mateo said, stepping forward. “You don’t have automobiles, so you get around by people who walk or pedal?”
“That’s right,” she answered. “Our technology is limited. You’ve fallen on a prison world. I’m sorry.”
Mateo shook his head. “Just tell us where the Chief Ascendant lives. We can walk there on our own. Really, we’re built tough. We insist,” he added when he saw that she was going to argue.
“Very well. It’s not far, just up the road.” She pointed up the hill.
The four of them nodded, and headed that way. Once they were at the sort of castle-looking building, the guards opened the gates with no questions, and let them through. They were wearing headsets, likely connected to radios, which meant that their technology wasn’t evenly limited. Who knew what other anachronistic things that they used in their daily lives?
They expected this Chief Ascendant to be lounging around on a bed full of pillows, and a harem of women, but he was behind a standing desk, along with other people. They were looking through papers, and discussing matters of state. “Ah. You are the freemen, aren’t you? Welcome to Ex-666.” He didn’t stop working. He kept signing declarations, and approving memos, or whatever else his staff was asking him to do.
“You’ve built yourself a nice society here, haven’t you,” Mateo put forth.
“Yes, well, we share a common purpose. We all hate the Exin Empire. I don’t know who told them that they should throw all of their insurgents onto one world, but we are probably the most successful one in the region. We work together, and if you’re here to disrupt our way of life, we will fight back.”
“That’s not why we’re here,” Mateo insisted. He was doing all the talking today. That was probably fine, for now. My colleagues are up in our ship right now, avoiding the ire of your orbital defense satellite.”
The Chief Ascendant laughed. “It’s not ours. It’s part of what keeps us here.”
“Do you want us to destroy it for you?”
The Chief Ascendant stopped, and raised one eyebrow at Mateo. “You came here in a warship?”
“It has weapons. It’s not a warship, but my engineer assures me that they can do it. They just don’t know what the consequences will be.”
“They’ll send an armada from Ex-182.”
Mateo sighed. “We can’t protect you from all that.”
“Could you...gain control over it?”
Mateo smirked, and turned his head slightly away to listen to Leona’s response. “Yeah, they surely could. They just need to get on board.”
“You could have anything you wanted,” the Chief Ascendant began, “if you did that for us.” He placed his elbow on the desk, and pointed to the sky. “That thing has an energy beam that can shut off all systems from hundreds of ships all at once, and then draw them in. If we had control over it, instead of the Exins, we would beg the armada to come, so that we could steal it.”
Mateo cleared his throat, and faced the group. “What do y’all think?” The conversation over comms was short, so he turned right back around. “Any enemy of Bronach Oaksent is a friend of ours.” He looked at the twins. “Go help them.”
Angela and Marie nodded. Angela tapped on her chest twice. “Two to beam up.” They both teleported away.
The crowd gasped. “You have some wild technology.” The Chief Ascendant noted.
Mateo chuckled. “They destroyed our planet on purpose, and since they didn’t wanna be destroyed along with it, they ran off a long time before it happened. We were left behind, with no oversight, so we stole all the tech we could, and flew off in the opposite direction.”
“Yes,” the Chief Ascendant agreed. “Their inability to organize, and our ability to do so, will ultimately be their downfall.”
One of his men sidled up to him, and whispered in his ear, “sir? What about the True Prisoner? They could help with her too.”
“Who is the True Prisoner?” Mateo asked, having easily heard his remark.
“This whole planet is a prison,” the Chief Ascendant began to explain, “but it is lush with vegetation, and other useful resources. We can’t leave, but most people don’t feel the need to. They’ve built a life for themselves. They entrust me to protect them, and to prepare to fight in their stead, which you’ve agreed to help us with. The point is, very few of us actually feel like prisoners. For the most part, things are better than they were before we came here. More would probably come on purpose if we could get the message out to them, letting them know that crime actually does pay. Only one of us is in a real prison. We, uhh...have been trying to get to her for decades. We don’t know anything about her; who she is, what she did to anger the Empire so much, or how she is able to survive the extreme heat and noxious fumes.”
“Extreme heat, and noxious fumes?” Mateo echoed. That sounded familiar to him. “Is she in a volcano?”
“You are quite perceptive. Yes, she is. It’s quite a distance to this volcano, but if you can teleport, you can get there quickly, and maybe even get her out. We would sure like to finally meet her.”
“Show me.”
The Chief Ascendant called for a map. His Prime Cartographer explained where they would be going, and went into more detail about the temperatures involved. Someone also called ahead to let the people who lived closer know that visitors would be arriving, and would need firesuits. Mateo thought about arguing against the need for such things, but decided not to bother. “Uhh...two more to beam up,” Mateo said awkwardly, trying to replicate Angela’s fake request for a technological solution. Unfortunately, he tapped on his chest after his request, instead of before, which would mean that their team wouldn’t have even heard it. That was stupid of him, but there was no undoing it now. He and Olimpia just let it go, and disappeared.
They found themselves in the magma chamber, standing on a solid rock formation. The heat was intense, as were the fumes. They could see a manmade structure shimmering in the distance, sitting upon its own rock island. It had a metal frame, but most of his was transparent, surely made of some kind of heat-resistant polycarbonate material. Mateo and Olimpia looked over to their left as someone was slowly side-stepping towards them in a shiny suit. They were holding an extra firesuit in their hand, and struggling in the attempt to give it to whoever was willing to take it. They were clearly finding it difficult to move in the thing, full stop, and the two of them didn’t need all that dead weight. Mateo dismissed the helpful volcanologist’s help, waving him away politely. He took Olimpia’s hand, and they made a jump into the cell. It was better inside, though not by much. Now that they were closer, he could see that this was no ordinary prisoner. He took her in his arms, and jumped them both to safety.
“Took ya long enough, James Van Der Beek!” Mirage exclaimed.
Mateo instinctually dropped his hologram, and turned back into himself. “Mirage Reaver, how the hell long have you been in there, dude?”
“That’s not my last name. What year is it?”
“It’s 2436.”
“I’ve been in there for eighty-three years,” she answered. “I did get one break thirty-six years ago, but then I had to go back.”
“Argh! God, it’s been so long!” He stepped back into her, and gave her a big hug. “I can’t believe you’re, like, all into this whole thing.”
“I’ve been doin’ my own thang, man. I know people. I’ve had adventures. I’ve traveled through time.”
“Not all it’s cracked up to be, eh?”
Leona appeared next to them. “Mirage. It’s nice to see you. Last we saw each other, you were on Altair.”
“You knew that she was back in this dimension?” Mateo questioned.
“I don’t tell you everything.”
“Are we cool?” Mirage asked Leona.
“We’re cool,” Leona confirmed. “Ramses is alive and well.”
“Thank you for getting me out of there. That place sucked. And also, hello.”
“Hi, I’m Olimpia.”
“Olimpia Sangster. It’s nice to finally meet you in person. I helped you once. You didn’t know it was me.”
“Thank you,” Olimpia replied graciously, not asking her to clarify.
“So.” Mirage clapped her hands together. “This is a prison world. My ship is nearby, and it’s invisible, so if you need a way to escape, you can come with me.”
“Where are you going?” Mateo asked her.
“I have a score to settle.” She looked at her bare wrist. “I just hope he’s still alive.”
Leona was too curious. What kind of vessel would an entity like Mirage build for herself? “What’s the name of your ship?”
“It’s actually a module called the Ambassador. It can detach from, and propel itself independently of, the main ship, which I named The Iman Vellani.”

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Starstruck: Lie Low and Sing Small (Part VIII)

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Brooke nodded, understanding at least the facts of the story, but not necessarily the subtext. “So where is the Elizabeth Warren now?” she asked.
Mirage and Lilac were back where they belonged in the timeline. The latter was currently having a discussion with her alternate self, trying to figure out how they would raise Aristotle and Niobe. That was between the two of them, and the crew of the Iman Vellani had no say in it. Their trip back here was uneventful, albeit long and convoluted. They stole the ship from where Mirage knew it would be sitting unattended, docked at the top end of the space elevator leading two multiple points on Earth, including Panama. After she placed Lilac in stasis to keep her alive, she plotted a course to Alpha Centauri B. During the eleven-year journey, Mirage regrew her skin, retrofitted their ship with some upgrades, and then placed herself in stasis too, so she wouldn’t be bored the rest of the way. Once they were at their destination, they still had to wait another thirty some-odd years before it was time to literally jump ship.
Mirage’s past self sent a nanofactory to Toliman in the year 2225, just in case they ever needed to make a quick getaway from the planet of Bungula. They did end up needing to do that, though it wasn’t as urgent as she was originally worried it would be. This was where the Iman Vellani was originally built. The crew wouldn’t board it for another two decades. Until then, it sat dormant in its asteroid, protected from the ill effects of the Toliman Nulls that will essentially freeze any sentient entity that attempts to draw near. To protect themselves from that, Future!Mirage placed the Warren in an extremely high orbit from the host star. This kept them at a safe distance at all times until they were ready to head for the asteroid, and enter the Vellani.
“I left it in its orbit to automatically warn anyone else off of trying to get to the solar system. Just because the star was annihilated, doesn’t mean that the Toliman Nulls aren’t still a thing there.”
“Yeah, about that matter-antimatter annihilation,” Sharice began, “are we ever going to do anything about it? Aren’t people going to be surprised that a star in the neighborhood suddenly just disappeared one day?”
“That is the elephant that lives in the room, isn’t it?” Mirage posed.
“It’s a problem for tomorrow,” Brooke decided.
“You mean yesterday,” Belahkay mused.
“Anyway,” Brooke went on, “you two have just been hiding on this ship the whole time? You never came out? You never tried to change anything?”
“Too risky,” Mirage said. “The timeline is complicated enough as it is.”
“No, you’re right,” Brooke agreed. “But perhaps you...made preparations that could help us now that you’ve closed your own loop?”
“Yes,” Mirage said. “I finally understand who reprogrammed the Vellani. It was me. I just hadn’t gone back to the past to do it yet.” She swiped a specific pattern on the wall next to her, which released a hidden compartment. Inside was a secret quantum terminal. She pressed a few buttons, causing a crystal to pop out of the storage drive. She took it out, and held it up. This should contain proof that Verdemus was completely destroyed.”
Belahkay looked down through the viewport on the floor. “No, it’s still there.”
Mirage smiled. “It ought to be.” She shook the crystal a little. “If my plan worked, this should have footage of Toliman b being destroyed instead, and with a little tweaking of the metadata, we can use it to make the Exins believe that it was Verdemus. We’ll even burst in there, and scream at them for making us do that when there is no such thing as a hypercubic crystal lattice.
“You don’t think they’ll come check?” a skeptical Brooke asked.
“Radiation,” Sharice offered. “We’ll say that this whole region of space has been irradiated. You can’t exactly tear a planet apart with a giant space knife.”
“Don’t their ships have shielding, same as ours?”
“No, I once got a quick look at their hull coding. They’re gamma rated for zero-point-five-l. They don’t have an e-rating. I doubt they’ve even heard of superenergetic particles. All we have to do is claim that the process we used necessarily emits exotic particles, and they’ll stay away.”
“How could they have not heard of SEPs?” Mirage questioned. “They have time travel, don’t they? That’s why come they’ve been a civilization for thousands of years, even though they were founded only a few decades ago.”
“I think that technology was lost,” Sharice argued, “perhaps intentionally. The Exins we met could be just as oppressed as the rest of the empire.”
“We’re banking a lot on that idea we brought up a while back about how disorganized they are,” Brooke warned. “We may be wholly misinterpreting that. They could have e-rated shielding, but we’ve just not seen it. Shari, you didn’t get a look at the hull coding for even every vessel in the fleet.”
“I’m confident on this,” Sharice insisted. “They won’t go near it, especially if we sell the lie. We know that there is no hypercubic crystal lattice in the core of this planet. How could we know that if we didn’t do as they asked?”
Mirage and Brooke both shook their heads, unsure if this was all worth the risk. The bad guys wanted the Verdemusians dead, whether by the crew’s hands, or someone else’s. They could have a backup team lying in wait. “What if the crystal lattice does exist? What if Spirit is wrong about that?”
“I’m not.” Spirit was leaning against the doorway. “But if you feel more comfortable, why don’t you test it? See for yourself if it’s there.”
“We can’t destroy a whole world on the off-chance,” Sharice contended. “That would defeat the purpose.”
“It doesn’t have to be permanent,” Spirit reasoned. “Tear it apart, and then go back in time to stop yourself from doing it. All the humans will be up in space, just in case something goes wrong, but you might as well check for yourself, right?”
“Are you suggesting we used the homestone to reverse it?” Mirage asked her.
“No, you don’t just have a rewinder on this thing? It has everything else.”
“We’re less time travelers, and more associated with time travelers,” Mirage explained. “I mean, we’ve all broken the conventional laws of physics, of course,, I didn’t engineer a time rewinder on the Iman Vellani.”
“Yes, you did.” Someone else was there, standing against the other doorway. It was Mirage. It was some other version of Mirage.
Present!Mirage sighed, more annoyed than shocked. “What the hell?”
Future!Mirage glided over to the opposite wall, and swiped a pattern on it to reveal a secret control terminal. “This is preprogrammed to reverse time by one year, but you can adjust it as necessary. You still need to build the planet-destroying machine, but I’m sure you already have an idea or two about that.”
“Yeah, I’ve never been worried about that,” Present!Mirage confirmed. “It’s just a simple transdimensional gravity beam. I just don’t know about this. I don’t like fudging with time, or gravity. What’s to stop us from going back, and avoiding all of this?”
“If you weren’t here,” Spirit began, “you would not have been able to save my friend, Tinaya’s life.”
“Or mine,” Lilac said, also coming into the room. “And who knows what would have happened to the children? You can’t undo anything.”
“Except for destroying the planet,” Present!Mirage countered.
“Except for that,” Future!Mirage agreed. Without another word, she gradually faded away until she was completely gone.
“I think you just erased her from the future,” Belahkay guessed.
“Whatever,” Mirage said. “It’s not up to her anyway. We vote. Everyone votes, including Tinaya. We’ll stick her mind into the virtual construct, and get an answer.”
Everyone?” Lilac pressed.
“Yes,” Mirage replied, “including your alternate self.”
“I don’t have an alternate self,” Lilac revealed. “We are one now.”
“How did you manage that?” Brooke asked.
“I don’t know. It just happened.”
Mirage smirked. She knew how it was done.
“No, I’m talking about the prisoner, Ilias Tamm,” Lilac clarified.
“Prisoners have rights,” Brooke said adamantly. “This is his planet too, and he has the right to have a say in what’s done with it. We’ll explain the stakes to him, as well as to the children. I agree, everyone votes, and it must be unanimous.”
A year later, Verdemus was torn apart by transdimensional artificial gravity, which supposedly released exotic particles in the region that rendered a radius of fifty light years too dangerous for normal ships to survive. Exotic particles were actually just very, very, very energetic particles that were extremely difficult to shield against. They were capable of passing through an entire planet, kind of like neutrinos, but destructive to baryonic matter. They aided in time travel tech so the only way to shield against them was by manipulating spacetime, essentially forcing them to pass along the shielding on a new vector, rather than through it, and then letting them go once they were on the other side. They were rare, and the crew didn’t think that the Exins understood them enough to have what was called an e-rating, so it was safe to make this claim.
Only the crew plus Spirit Bridger was on board the Iman Vellani Proper. The rest were on the Vellani Ambassador, which meant that they did not go back in time. Once the timeline was reset, they had no recollection of the past year, because they had never experienced it. They knew that it had happened, but now they were able to move on with their lives from here, safe on Verdemus, protected by a fake bubble of exotic radiation. Belahkay and Spirit got to know each other for the course of that undone year, and both could remember the relationship that was kindled by it. They wanted to see where it was going, so he left the ship and stayed behind on Verdemus. Mirage gave them and the rest of the Verdemusians a shuttle that could be used for interplanetary travel, or very slow interstellar travel, if they ever needed to evacuate. It could not reach fractional speeds, and definitely didn’t have a reframe engine, so their options were limited. But at least they weren’t singular, which was what they were facing without the crew’s arrival and intervention.
Brooke and Sharice took the ship off into the black, and quite deliberately told no one where they were going. They had to do this, because the Vellani needed to stay off the radar for the foreseeable future. Its discovery would ruin the lie that Mirage was about to tell Ex-10 regarding the fate of Verdemus, the Verdemusians, the ship, and her crew. At the rendezvous point, she teleported over from the Vellani Ambassador, and just started to wail on him for killing her crew. It took nearly twenty faceless stormtroopers with chains to get her off of him. She was pulling her punches, though. She didn’t want to kill him, she just wanted to sell the rage that she was supposedly experiencing due to what happened. They stuck her in hock while they healed their leader, and let her stew a bit.
A few days later, he came to visit her, as calm as ever, and apparently not vengeful from her attack. “Start at the beginning. What happened?”
Mirage prepared herself to solidify the cover-up. “We did what you asked. We went to the planet in question. There were people on it, but not too many, so we pulled them up to our ship, and got back to work. They protested, but we were there to do a job, so we ignored them. I built a machine that uses transdimensional energy to manipulate gravity, which ripped the planet apart, and do you know what I found there?”
“Oh, so you know. There’s no such thing as hypercubic crystal lattice.”
“No. We just wanted you to destroy the world. It is of utmost importance that the people you found living there did not multiply. They are our sworn enemies, and they were in a position of great strategic advantage. They were too close to the new antistar, and we couldn’t have that. It’s fine that you saved the ones who were already there, though. We don’t have any strong feelings about them as individuals.”
“Oh, I didn’t save them, you asshole. Have you ever heard of exotic particles?”
“Yes. But I admittedly don’t know what they are.”
“I don’t either, but they’re deadly. I was in charge of supplying the power, so I was far enough away, and naturally shielded, when we turned on the machine, but my crew was not so lucky. They were bombarded with highly energetic particle radiation, and killed. They didn’t die right away. No, it took time, but all of their cells were split, their DNA unraveled, and their inorganic parts degraded extremely rapidly. They may have been able to transfer their consciousnesses to new substrates, but those would have been destroyed too. They insisted that I escape to get my revenge before too much of the radiation could get to me on the other side of the host star that we were using as a power source. You let me out of here, and that is exactly what I will do. Or you could come in here, I’m not picky.” She was doing a pretty good job in this role. It didn’t hurt that if any of this were true, she probably would actually react this way.
Ex-10 smiled, almost kindly, likely because he felt that he was in a position of safety and power. “Well, then I suppose I will have to never let you out, except to transfer you to our penal colony.”
Mirage suspected that this might happen, which was why she programmed the Vellani Ambassador to turn invisible and escape under certain conditions, such as her absence for a week. “I will get out eventually, even if it takes me a hundred years. I’m gonna live forever.”
“And I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll be dead by then. I decidedly won’t live forever, so I’m not worried.” He lifted his radio. “This is Ex-10. Plot a course to Ex-666. Warn them too, so they have time to make arrangements for a special new prisoner.”

Friday, February 23, 2024

Microstory 2090: Still Delusional

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The doctor is allowing me to write one blog post, assuring my readers that I am not an alien from another universe, and everything I’ve been posting this year has been an attempt to make myself seem more interesting, and gain followers. I was born to this world, just like everyone else. Everything that I have been doing for the last few days has been the result of an illness that I experienced from the nursery. Earlier this year (when I came to town, but not when I first came to this planet, because I was born on this planet) I got sick from a virus. As I was recovering, I got a bacterial infection. More recently, due to my exposure to certain plants where I work, I contracted a parasitic infection. Of course, other people were exposed to the same thing, but I was immunocompromised, so it hit me harder. If I were still delusional, I may tell you that I believe I was indeed infected by a parasite, but that the main reason I was susceptible was because I’m originally from another Earth, where we don’t necessarily have such parasites. Now I know I’m not. I’m from here, and I’m being treated right now. I should be back to myself in no time, and no longer have the compulsion to go to random points on the map to destroy portals to other worlds. I’m sorry for anyone who has been worried about me. I didn’t mean to scare anyone. I was sick, and not in my right mind. I trust my doctors, and I know that they have my best interests at heart. Once I’m released from the hospital, my landlord says that I still absolutely have a home to go back to. Unfortunately, I will no longer be able to work at the plant nursery. It’s too dangerous for me. My weakened immune system may be a permanent issue. There is no way to know yet. My support system, though, which includes my soon-to-be-ex boss, is stronger than ever. They have all promised to help me find something better; maybe something with conditioned air. I don’t know what that could be. Since I’m not actually from another universe—where I had a life for three decades—I don’t have any work experience to speak of, so what even am I qualified for? I guess that’s a problem for tomorrow. Tonight, I just need to sleep, and let the medicines do their job. I’m glad to finally be getting better. Thank you all for being patient and understanding with me as I navigate this difficult time.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Microstory 2089: To Break Me Out

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I made a mistake. I left a hard copy of my map, and other pertinent information regarding the mysterious slew of missing persons, in my attic room at my landlord’s house. She found it, and called the cops on me. They say that I’m a danger to myself, and possibly to others. I was able to stop today’s disappearance by destroying the Westfall portal, but I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow if I can’t get myself the hell out of here. They’ve locked me in this all white room. It’s not padded, but we all know that they think I’m mentally unstable. Fortunately, they never found my emergency social box in my special underpocket. It’s a USB stick-sized computer with a small screen that only works through voice transcription. It takes a really long time to make sure that neither I nor the device has made any mistakes. It has two buttons. One opens up transcription, while the other accepts other commands, like punctuation, and moving the cursor. A wheel on the side scrolls through the text and menu items for file management. Forgive me if I ended up missing something. I bought this at the internet cafe a long time ago. Posting here is a secondary function of the device, but it was mostly invented for protection. If you’re mugged, and they take your regular phone, this will allow you to make a call, or send a text message without all the proverbial bells and whistles. I don’t need to send a message to anyone, though, because everyone I thought I could trust has turned against me. I just need to get my story out, and maybe one of my readers can do something about this total misunderstanding. I’m not crazy. I really am from another universe, and I really do need to stop others from accidentally being spirited away from it. Please, you have to break me out. I’ll do anything; pay anything, even if I have to do it in installments. I don’t belong in this room!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Microstory 2088: Ill Keep Fighting

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I didn’t go into work today, and I didn’t ask for anyone to fill in for me. I just have so many lives to save, I couldn’t think about anything else. Here’s a summary: I saved someone’s life yesterday. I don’t know who it would have been, but I finally broke the pattern. A missing person a day, but I stopped it. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, though, or my work would be over. The pattern can easily start over again, which is why I had to do the same thing today at the next location in the pattern. Fortunately, now I know what must be done. I have the prior missing persons plotted on a map, which is how I noticed that they always disappear in a spiral formation, which means it’s relatively easy to predict where the next disappearance will happen. It’s a not insignificantly sized radius, but I don’t have to worry about staking out the whole thing. All I have to do is find the epicenter. As soon as I step into it, the portal to the interversal conduit is ripped apart. My current theory is that I’m contaminated. The bulk doesn’t like me anymore. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve traveled to so many worlds already, or because I used to have superpowers, or maybe because Westfall decided that I should be here, and I’m not allowed to leave. It doesn’t really matter, but I put a bad taste in the mouth of the cosmos, which now gives me the power to destroy portals. I’m a pathogen, and it’s immune to me now. This is good for this situation, because that way no one else can accidentally fall into it.

After I did the same thing today that I did yesterday, I went back to the neighborhood from yesterday. I started knocking on doors, showed them the pictures of a few people who have already gone missing because of all of this, and asked them if they knew where their loved ones were. Like I said, there’s no way to know who it might have been taken if it turns out I failed. A lot of people slammed the door in my face, but that’s okay. They don’t have to tell me. Even the possibility that someone they care about has gone missing will force them to check. If any of them had come up short on their respective headcounts, I would have heard about it by now. Nothing has been reported, which means that I’m succeeding. All I have to do is keep doing what I’m doing with the portals. Even if I have to do it forever, I won’t have to keep canvassing, because I’ll eventually be confident that I’m successfully putting a stop to the disappearances. My boss called, but I didn’t pick up. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to my real job. I’ll scavenge for food in dumpsters if that’s the only way I have to survive. This is all my fault, and I can’t take any breaks. I’m the only hope that these innocent people have. I’m not much of a cartographer, nor any sort of artist, but I’m working on a way to upload the future disappearance locations, so you can share it with everyone you know in the area. Ill keep fighting, but it would be even safer if people just stayed away from the danger zones entirely anyway. It’s just like when the bomb squad is called in to disarm the bomb, it’s not like they stop evacuating the building, right? Well, this is a bomb, just like any other, except it only ever claims one victim. I’m trying to bring that number down to zero in the future, but I could use some help.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Microstory 2087: Into the Epicenter

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I went to the place where I knew someone was going to disappear mysteriously, and immediately started getting a weird feeling. The more I walked, the stranger I felt. I eventually passed out of the blast radius, and had to turn around. Through a little trial and error, I was able to determine the center of everything. There was nothing there but empty space in the middle of an alleyway, and I didn’t think that someone would necessarily disappear from that exact spot. They would have to be incredibly unlucky to happen to pass over it at the perfect moment. It was going to happen, though, and I was the only one who could stop it. I realized after standing there for a few minutes, keeping my head on a swivel to see if anyone else was in the area, that I had already felt this before. It’s what I felt when I first came to this universe. The incident was being replicated, one person at a time. This could either mean that they were going to Havenverse, which is where I last was before this world, or somewhere else entirely. This was Westfall. I mentioned that in an earlier post. It’s one of the things that takes people back and forth through the bulk. Most people don’t even realize that anything has happened, because they end up on a version of Earth sufficiently similar to their own. I have no clue how often this occurs, or in what universes, but this seems excessive. There always seems to be a purpose to it. The person who’s taken has something to accomplish in the next world over, even if they don’t understand it. It’s unlikely that this need perfectly matches up with the spiral I noticed on the map. No, I did this. I have caused Westfall to malfunction, and as I was saying, I have to stop it. Not knowing what else to do, I stepped into the epicenter, where I felt a rush of energy sweep upwards from my feet, and dissipate in the air above me. The strange feeling that’s indicative of Westfall went away with it. I think I destroyed the interversal conduit just by stepping into it. If there’s a way to escape, it could be through one of these, or it could be that I’m the only one in the world who can’t access these conduits. I don’t know, but there have been no new reports of any missing persons today. It may take some time for a loved one to realize it, but I have high hopes that I fixed it. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen again tomorrow, though, so I’m going to do the same at the next spot. This is going to become tedious and tiresome, but it’s my responsibility.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Microstory 2086: And Even Chaotic

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I have been trying to figure out, not only where my co-worker went, but also where everyone else has gone. One person has mysteriously disappeared from Kansas City every day for the last month and a half. None of them showed signs of wanting to go somewhere before their disappearance, they leave no trace behind, and the authorities have not categorized any of them as suspicious. One thing they seem to have in common is that their respective friends and family aren’t extremely surprised by the development. The cops eventually stop investigating entirely, because none of them is a child, or someone else at high risk, like a dementia patient. They’re all self-sufficient adults who have been known to be a little bit flaky and unpredictable. They also come from different jurisdictions, so no one but me has any hope of seeing any of this as a pattern. In some of the stories I was writing before I disappeared from my own world, I came up with this organization called the Kansas City Metro Corps. It’s a police agency that operates in all of Kansas City, even across state lines, which to my knowledge, is not something that exists in the real world. There are federal agents, of course, but no one that can carry out investigations regularly between only two states. They might do it occasionally, but in that case, two different departments will have to liaise with each other, which can be complicated, disorganized, and even chaotic. They don’t have anything like the KC Metro Corps on this Earth, so no one is talking to each other, or seeing the connections.

I have been doing my own investigating, and I’ve come to a startling discovery that made me throw up in the middle of my shift. Don’t worry, I made it to the bathroom in time, because I was already in the break room, but I don’t know if I can live with myself anymore. It’s me. I’m the cause. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but it’s definitely me. Tracing the disappearances have been difficult, because no one witnessed anything strange happening, so their true locations aren’t so cut and dried, which is why I didn’t see it before. But if I add myself to the map along with all the others, and adjust for people’s hypothetical movement after the last person to see them loses sight of them, then I am at the epicenter. Every disappearance happens from that point, and has continued outwards in a spiral formation. The pattern would be beautiful if it weren’t so sickening. They all happen early in the morning, which makes sense, because that’s when I first arrived on this world. So I’ve already missed today. I’ve not heard anything yet, but I’m sure whatever mysterious force is causing this has struck again, and I have an idea of where. I can’t save that person, or anyone else we lost before, at least I might not be able to, I don’t know. But I know that there’s a chance for me to save whoever is meant to go missing tomorrow. I’m taking the day off, which is something that I didn’t want to do this early on at my job, but I don’t think I have any other choice. I’ve asked the high school girl to fill in for me, since it’s Teacher Planning Day. I’m going to the store today to gear up. I don’t know what I’ll be going up against.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 14, 2435

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If Vitalie went back in time, presumably to Ex-741, why didn’t she prevent the planet from being destroyed? Well, there was a logical answer to that, though there was no way of knowing whether it was the right answer. The world suffered a massive matter-antimatter reaction, worse than the one that decimated the refugee world that the team tried to stay on in the Fifth Division. This one was catastrophic enough to tear the whole thing apart, so there was no reason to believe that anyone survived it, and since the chain reaction was obviously triggered by their arrival, they had every reason to suspect that their deaths was the ultimate goal. Perhaps any vessel that tried to land would have triggered the reaction, but since the Exins would have proverbially gotten away with their oppressive ways if it weren’t for the meddling kids, the team decided to assume that they were the specific targets. So they were almost certainly dead, their means of survival being so outrageous that the Exins would not have even considered it as a possible outcome, and the best thing that Team Matic could do was to stay dead. To make that happen without just running away, or pointlessly orbiting a star for years on end would be to start hiding in plain sight.
The old ship that Vitalie apparently programmed to meet them on the asteroid was rather small. Perhaps old wasn’t the word for it...certified preowned, maybe? They didn’t find any auto history report in it, though, so they couldn’t tell what it had been through. Ramses found a database of information in the central computer, but it didn’t say anything about how the vessel was used in the past. It just provided him with the technical specifications, and the implication that it was very, very old. Oh, and they also knew that it was called The Dorsch. It was not a rustbucket, but as mentioned, it was small; smaller than the Dante, though still larger than the little unnamed thing they were using that was just destroyed a few years ago. Ram spent the rest of the day affixing the pocket dimension generator to one of the doors, as well as making some other retrofits. The rest of the team had school.
While the Dorsch was going to shapeshift using exterior holographics, the rest of the team needed to do the same. Fortunately, they were all capable of changing their appearances. The power was replicated from Alyssa McIver, though none of them had used it much. Leona was the most experienced, but the rest had only tried a few times, so she spent most of the day teaching them how to hold convincing and sustained false images. They couldn’t lose focus for a split second, or it would totally undermine the ruse. The next day, only Marie and Angela were excelling at the new skill, so it was decided that the others would not yet face any of the locals at their next destination. So only the three of them would be part of the outreach program.
Mateo and Olimpia went off to find Vitalie!613, but that didn’t take long at all, so they zipped back up to the Dorsch, where Ramses was working. The holographic projectors were not yet ready, but that was all right, because the idea was to always show up to each new planet looking different, and they had never been anywhere else looking like this, so it was fine to use for this trial run. They still didn’t know if their new modus operandi was going to work in the short-term, let alone the long-run. “How long are you gonna wait?” He was tweaking something on some device.
“I’ll wait several months,” Vitalie!613 decided. If she started butting into lives of the Ex-613 natives right after this mysterious trio of women showed up, they might make a connection between them, and if they did that, they may start to suspect some connection to Team Matic, which would invalidate this whole revised plan.
“What are you gonna do in the meantime?” Ramses pressed.
“I’ll just find an island somewhere, and have a nice vacation. That is, unless you can give me your little illusion power, so I can blend in with them.”
“It’s not that easy,” he said apologetically. The truth was that he didn’t want this power spreading like a virus. Eventually, everyone would be able to look like anyone, and then the entire concept of trust could be vanquished from the universe. Was it selfish to hoard the ability, and keep it just within the group? Probably, but he wasn’t going to apologize for it. He would only apologize for the other reasons. “I couldn’t just give it to you as you are. I would need to clone you, and transfer your consciousness, and I don’t know enough about your current powers to replicate those as well. It’s a delicate balance. You can’t just copy and paste powers. You would end up being more than the sum of your parts, and the consequences of that condition are too unpredictable.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Vitalie!613 said. “I don’t just have Andromeda’s, Saga’s, Camen’s, and Étude’s powers separately. They’re all mixed in with each other. Étude wasn’t born with the ability to teleport. She was given the ability to be teleported, by the powers that be. The fact that she retained any level of it always felt like a mistake to her. She thought that the PTB forgot to take it away, because they would normally pass it on to someone else, but she was last, so it slipped their minds. I bet if we compared notes, we would find that the way I teleport is different than your way.”
Ramses was working this whole time, but he stopped now to look up. Then he turned to face her as he was lifting the lenses of his magnifying specs. “That’s a good idea. Let’s compare notes.”
“That sounds time-intensive, and it doesn’t look like you have time. I’m not leaving this planet, and you’re not staying.”
Ramses flicked the lenses back down. “Well, we’ll see. Leona may determine that this world is a two-dayer.”
Meanwhile, down on the planet, Leona, Angela, and Marie were pretending to be three survivors from the north. They found two major settlements on the surface, which were on the same continent, but thousands of kilometers from each other. They were not connected by any roads, and the level of technology that they exhibited did not suggest that air transport was a thing here. In addition, multiple mountain ranges separated them, making foot-traffic unlikely, albeit not impossible, which would explain how these three strangers made it all the way here. The northern settlement was in ruins. They found bones, but no evidence of an attack. They probably died out in an epidemic of some sort. All of this gave them a hopefully believable reason why the southern settlement had never seen them before.
“So, you don’t want a parade?” the Director asked them.
“Why would we get a parade?” Leona asked him.
“We always put on a parade for new arrivals,” the Director explained. “The only person who never got a parade was the first one here. She’s the one who planned the parade for the second person. But I guess if you’ve been living here, you already got your parade...unless they don’t do them up north.”
“Uh, we’re not sure,” Marie responded. “We never arrived here,” she lied. “We were born on this world. Our parents might have had parades, though.”
He narrowed his eyes. “We were sterilized. We’re not supposed to have children.”
“It must not have worked for them,” Angela reasoned. “The two of us are twins. She’s our younger sister.”
“Really? She looks older.”
“I’ve had a harder life,” Leona said. They couldn’t make themselves look like one of their friends from the stellar neighborhood, because any of them could be just as famous as the members of the team. But they each knew plenty of people from their pasts that had no connection to salmon and choosers. The easiest way to form a skintight hologram of someone like that was to let your subconsciousness do it for you. Leona didn’t even remember who this person was that she looked like now. She could have been a fifth grade art teacher, or a mother she stood behind in line in the grocery store once. If she looked older than the inspirations that Angela and Marie’s subconsciousnesses chose, it was nothing more than a coincidence.
Marie sighed. “Here’s what happened. She and I were born, and we lived up north. Before we were old enough to keep memories, our parents had to leave. The theory is that everyone else died. We don’t know how. Along the way, she was born, which meant that she was always on the move, and never benefited from the stability of a true home. That could be why she’s aged a little faster. We have been heading this direction our entire lives. Our parents died along the way, and now here we are.”
“Did you see any other resorts?” the Director asked them all.
“Yeah, that’s what this is. It’s a resort. I am the Resort Director.”
“Oh.” Marie faced Leona. “It was a resort. If it was anything like this place, our parents lived in a resort.”
Leona nodded. “They were so cagey. They refused to tell us much about where we came from. That’s why we’re so confused and uninformed. Please forgive us.”
“What is the purpose of this resort?” Angela asked, doubling down on their excuse to be ignorant.
“It is a reward for a job well-done. We all came from different planets. Every year, the Empire evaluates the merits of every planet under the domain. One planet is selected which has exemplified the values and spirit of the Exin Way of Life. At the same time, a potential winner on each planet is found after its own rigorous evaluations. If the planet wins that year’s round of evaluations, the planet’s winner is transported here from there. On the planet where I’m from, the local winner receives consolation prizes if that planet is not chosen as the above-all winner. On some planets, if the planet doesn’t win that year, the individual winner wins nothing. They just go on with their lives.”
“I see. So you’re all just living here together. All of your needs are provided?” Leona asked him.
“Absolutely,” the Resort Director replied. “We always suspected that there were other resorts, but we have no communication with them. This is big news.”
“Do you have any problems? Any crime?”
“No. Like I said, we’re all chosen after rigorous evaluations. No one with poor psychology, or proven bad behavior, is allowed in. Everything’s perfect. I see no reason why you can’t join us. No one can be here if they don’t belong, so you must belong.”
“Thanks. We’ll, uh...can we talk in private?” Leona asked.
“You may have the room,” he offered before leaving.
“I think we just got our Vitalie back,” Marie determined.
“Why?” Angela asked.
“They don’t need a Caretaker,” Leona figured. “This place is...inconsequential. No one needs to be saved. They don’t need to be stopped from doing anything bad.”
Leona, Angela, Marie,” Olimpia began through the comms. “Get back up here.
They all teleported back up to the ship.
“We’ve been listening,” Olimpia went on. “What were you gonna say, Vita?”
“I think I should stay,” Vitalie!613 believed.
“What would you do here?” Leona asked her.
“I would gather information. That’s what you need, right?”
“Well, yeah, but...”
“You have a star chart. You know the numeral designation of every planet you go to, but you don’t know anything about it, do you? They might need your help. They might be trying to destroy the galaxy. You just don’t know. Let me find out for you, so you can prepare for the mission. There could be one person from every single planet in the Empire here. I’ll talk to them, gain their trust, and then relay information to you. Just give me one of those little communication discs.”
“That’s not your mission, though; your self-appointed purpose. You replicated yourself to take care. You’re the Caretaker.”
“Eh, things change,” Vitalie!613 mused. “Have you noticed when you’ve met other versions of me that we all act a little bit differently? Because of stasis, it hasn’t necessarily been very long since we diverged. Before the OG Vitalie started replicating herself through time travel, she prepared herself psycho-emotionally. She essentially trained herself to be flexible, adaptable. Every one of me that you meet is different because the situation is different, because you’re coming at me with different attitudes, based on your own background, which shifts with every new experience that you have. Yes, I came here to be a caretaker, but now as you’ve pointed out, Ex-613 doesn’t need that. It needs a spy.”
“I dunno,” Leona said. “You’re not invincible. People train in spycraft for years. You don’t just wake up one day and start doing it. Infiltrating one person’s life is difficult enough, but you want to infiltrate—and gain the trust of—an entire population. That is a tall order for anyone. Forgive me, but on Dardius, you operated primarily on brute force, because no one could stop you. Subtlety is not something that you needed before.”
“Okay, so let’s start small. I’ll insert myself into the life of one person. What’s the designation for the next planet you’re going to?”
“I have the list,” Olimpia announced. She pulled up her tablet. “The next one over is Ex-666. Hm. Does that have the same connotation for you as it did in my time?”
“Yes,” Angela and Marie answered simultaneously.
“I’ll find someone who lived on Ex-666, and tell you about it,” Vitalie!613 continued. “I’ll have months to get the information out of them gradually before you come back into the timestream. Give me a chance. I can take care of myself. Pun very intended.”
Leona thought about it, and eventually agreed. “But don’t forget that we can come back for you. Not at any moment, but...”
The next year, they learned that no one on Ex-613 originally came from Ex-666, and later that it was not given that number randomly. It was a penal colony. Maybe the numbers did mean something.