Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Microstory 2137: A Specific Person

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I’ve been experiencing a lot of depression lately, which is understandable, and also not at all surprising. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety my whole life, and sought professional help for it on a number of occasions. It’s never really helped, and I’ve not been able to speak with my current therapist recently, because of my physical medical issues. We try to talk on the phone, but I’m absolutely terrible at that. I have trouble interpreting how other people are receiving what I’m saying in person, but it’s even worse when I can’t see them at all. Plus, in therapy, there need to be moments of quiet that can be filled with nonverbal cues, or even the lack thereof cues, so the therapist can gain insights into one’s condition by that silence. When you’re on the phone, well maybe, you actually are talking, but it’s a bad connection, or the call has been dropped entirely. I’ve had varying qualities of success when it comes to therapy, so even if I could talk to someone in the way that I need, it probably wouldn’t work anyway. I have too many character flaws that I don’t want to get rid of, because doing so might make me more like other people. Normal people eat fecal matter, murder each other, and vote against the greater good. As hard as it is for me to live with who I am, I wouldn’t wanna be much like you either, because at least I can look in the mirror and see a specific person, instead of just a facsimile of everyone else in the world. I’m not special, but I’m not typical. I know, I’m rambling, and not saying anything of any value or meaning, but that’s what happens when I’m struggling with my mental health. Like I was saying, I’ve always been depressed and anxious. It’s my resting state. I think I stopped trying to get help with it because I got so used to these feelings, and never thought they could be fixed. I’m still not sure about it. I’ll go back to therapy when I’m literally fit to go do so again, but I don’t expect any semblance of progress. If it’s happened before, it was so gradual that I didn’t notice. I don’t like things that can’t be measured, and I don’t know what happiness looks like. My guess is that it doesn’t exist beyond the abstract, like dark matter, or a man who’s eaten his own head.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Microstory 2136: Try the Punching Thing

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While I’m feeling all right, I still have the fungal infection, so I still can’t leave my apartment. I’m really super extremely very hoping that this is all over by this weekend, so I can get back to doing my time, and finish my current sentence before I die of old age. This is one of those days where I have little to tell you, because not much interesting happened to me. The nurse came last night to take my blood, and I got my results this morning. She’ll come three more times this week, on Wednesday, and on Friday. After that, if I’m still having trouble, I may be ordered to go to the hospital. I mean the real hospital, not the prison medical ward. That would be really bad, for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that it might ultimately mean my death. If I were given such a terrible prognosis, I would probably start punching the air, and screaming at the top of my lungs. That might seem random to you, but I have two characters who can travel the bulkverse using those methods. It would be my last hope. I mean, I could always try them now. Well, I can try the punching thing. The screaming thing is different, because I would have to be away from other people, but that’s not a bad idea. It may be cathartic to let out some primal cries anyway, and hey, maybe it’ll work. A part of me doesn’t want it to. Back when I first became immortal, I was also learning that using people’s powers meant stealing it from them temporarily, and I also knew that once I stopped using it, I would lose it, and I really want that immortality back. I’m sick of being sick. But also, get me out of this universe, and tell me where Cricket and Claire are! *screams primally*

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 24, 2445

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They were still getting updates from their friends all over the Goldilocks Corridor. Things were changing. The Ex-666ers had formed a rebellion, and were at the beginning of a war against the establishment, particularly the military planet of Ex-182. It was pretty bad, and some will fault Team Matic for starting it, but this region of space was being ruled by an oppressive empire. Only a naïve fool would think that the end of such unjust violence would be caused by an abstract injection of peace. It was always going to end up like this. Things were going to get worse before they got better, but they were going to get better, and in order to keep going, everyone had to truly believe that.
After they left Korali with her people on Ex-18118—a designation which still bothered Ramses—they jumped back up to the Vellani Ambassador, and flew off to a random meteor to prepare for their next mission. They were finally going to Ex-42, which would hopefully give them the answers that they need to find Ex-69, which was their true goal. That was why the updates regarding the freedom fighters from Ex-666 were important, because it sort of gave them permission to skip all of the worlds in their original path. It was time to buckle down and focus. They didn’t have a plan, because they had yet to meet anyone who had ever been to Ex-42, except for Korali, who admitted to only having seen a very small part of it. Besides, while she was friendly with them, and promised not to rat them out, she remained loyal to the Empire, and refused to provide them knowledge that could dismantle a system that she still believed in.
While they were gone, the ship parked itself in a hiding spot, and turned itself invisible, as per usual. This was a particularly risky mission, though. They would likely face profound opposition from whoever ran the archives. Being invisible was only good enough while they were stationary. When they were moving, even at only subfractional speeds, they still gave off a heat signature, just like any other vessel. They needed some way of being totally imperceptible, to the naked eye, and other sensors. This was where the Heat Shunt came into play. This was one of those projects that Ramses worked on when he wasn’t actively participating in missions. Though not completely finished, it was finally ready to at least be used once. It worked by shoving all waste heat into a totally uninhabitable pocket dimension. The space within this pocket was not infinite, so all that energy had to be released eventually, which they were intending to do at safe times, like when they were traveling at reframe speeds anyway, or near a star, whose intense radiation would mask the negligible signature of a heat dump.
This made them truly invisible, as long as they didn’t forget to purge it eventually. Ramses included safeguards, which would trigger a purge automatically as it approached critical mass, but this was not a perfect solution. What if they were, say, on the surface of a planet, or docked at a space station? He was contemplating a means to a telejettison subroutine, which would dispatch the dimensional generator to a safe distance, but it wasn’t only about distance. The specific vector mattered, and that was always different. The teleporter might have to calculate the destination on the fly. To address the constantly changing variables, it was probably better to make those calculations constantly as well. Hopefully, this was not anywhere near a problem yet, and they wouldn’t have to worry about it until another day. For now, it just had to work in the first place. “Hot pocket is live,” Ramses announced confidently.
“Is that what we’re calling it?” Leona asked.
“You got a problem with that?”
“I guess not, they don’t exist anymore.”
“What don’t exist anymore?”
Leona was done with the conversation. “Is everyone ready to go?”
They were all standing on the bridge. While their enhanced substrates would help them survive in many harsh environments, redundancy was a core principle of SCR&M, so they were also wearing Integrated Multipurpose Suits. These were not the result of one of Ramses’ projects. They were standard dress for spacefarers in the stellar neighborhood, and to varying degrees, average, everyday people, and Mirage had equipped the Ambassador with enough for the whole team, and more. They came in layers, each one designed to protect the wearer from projectiles, blades, concussive forces, or even radiation. Different models had a different mix of these layers. The ones that they were wearing right now had all of the layers, for ultimate protection. To be honest, they looked pretty badass, standing there in the same sleek black and gray outfits, their air packs and helmets affixed to the back with magnets. Though, they didn’t have to look the same. The outer layer could shift colors to match personal preferences. They nodded affirmatively at Leona’s question.
“All right. Yalla.”
Marie engaged the subfractional engines, and headed towards the inner solar system. Before they knew anything about this place, they expected to find another space station, like Ex-467, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t a planet either. According to Korali’s intel, it was the smallest possible coalesced asteroidal sphere. That was, it only had enough gravity to form into a sphere, as opposed to the usual oblong shape of some other subplanetary bodies. A moon. It was basically a moon, except that it orbited the host star directly, and had Earth-comparable surface gravity, which Korali figured was powered artificially by a microsingularity in the center, though no one ever specified to her while she was there, and she never bothered to question it.
They made it into orbit. Ramses had to stay with the Ambassador, so he could monitor the new hot pocket. He insisted that he do this alone, so the rest of the team could teleport into the facility, even though they had agreed to never let that happen. They were already down one person, and they still didn’t know what they might be up against in there. He promised to stay on comms, and request help if he needed it. To be fair, his would probably be the safest job. Theirs was not going to be easy. Stealth continued to be vital while on the ground, and there was a downside to that.
“Okay.” Olimpia huddled them up. “Invisibility is invisibility. There’s no magical way to let you see others who are also invisible. I suppose Ramses could try to work on that later, but until then, we need to lean heavily into our group empathy. Try to stay connected at all times. We don’t have a built-in homing device to locate each other, but we should be able to get a sense of distance and direction. I thought about having us hold hands, or tying a rope between us, but there are so many things that could go wrong with either of those options. Invisibility is hard to maintain; harder than other illusions. You have to constantly let the light pass around you, and I do mean to use the word let, because if you concentrate on doing it, you will probably only end up psyching yourself out. Just...go with the flow.” She loosened herself up to demonstrate extreme chill.
“Thank you, Pia,” Leona said. “If any of you feel like you’re losing it, jump back to the ship. It’s better to be safe than sorry. We don’t know what people look like there, or how well they recognize each other’s faces. We might be able to blend in with them with holographic illusions, but it’s impossible to say for sure, so this is our only hope. The situation may change when we get down there, but I can’t promise anything. We will resort to brute force if we have to. I want..that information. Is everyone cool with that?”
They nodded.
“Okay.” Leona nodded too, and then looked back over at Ramses. “You good?”
He was munching on a snack, so he just held up an a-okay sign.
Leona made sure to make eye contact with each member of the away team. With a shrug of her eyebrows, she decided to repeat, “yalla.” They turned themselves invisible, and jumped.
They were immediately assaulted by a sensory overload when they landed inside the archive facility. A siren was blaring, trying to deafen their ears. Lights were flashing all around them, making it impossible to get a good look at what was around them. They were immediately wet, and getting wetter. It felt like a room temperature mist was falling all over the place. When they could get a look at it, the water appeared to be a neon orange, rather than transparent. They found themselves on the floor pretty much immediately, or that’s what they assumed. It was also difficult to keep track of the passage of time as they were squirming around in...baby powder? Someone yelled that they should try to teleport back up to orbit, but they couldn’t. The rubber band snapped them right back to where they were whenever one of them tried. At least the teleportation dampener didn’t hurt, as it did on that one planet. It was just an unbreakable barrier.
“Korali gave us up!” Marie cried.
“I won’t believe it!” Mateo shouted back.
“Who else knew what we could do?” Leona questioned. “This is obviously a trap for us!”
“Who else knew?” Mateo echoed. “Anyone who noticed that we only ever show up once a year, like Santy Claus!”
They could sense Olimpia trying to send Ramses the feeling of escape that they agreed upon, which was marked by rapidly switching between regret and satisfaction, over and over and over again. He replied that he understood by sending it back. After a few times, he left his own feelings on regret, which was likely what he was truly feeling at the time, due to having to leave them behind. They didn’t make any sort of specific plan for what to do after the designated survivor escaped, but he would probably go seek help from Ex-666, or maybe one of the Caretakers.
The lights and sounds ceased, but the mist still fell, and they were still covered in the powder. Theoretically, all they would have to do was to incorporate the new outer coating on their bodies into the invisibility illusion, but they were not feeling well enough to do that. Mateo was particularly out of sorts since he was relentless with his attempts to teleport back to Ramses, and was extremely exhausted. They were only as strong as their weakest link, so they were stuck as the bad guy walked up to them.
“Sir, be careful,” someone said.
“I know what I’m doing.” They recognized that voice. It was Bronach Oaksent himself. Yay! They didn’t even have to figure out where Ex-69 was! Their enemy came right to them. How nice of him. Now he just needed to give them a few minutes to several hours to recover from this, and then they could put up their dukes. He crouched down in front of Leona. “How does it feel? How does it feel, knowing that nothing you do matters? You think you made any sort of impact in my empire? You think that was the first prison break I’ve ever seen? You think I can’t blow up all of the ships that they commandeered with a wave of my hand?” He held up a hand, and kept it aloft.
Leona blinked, struggling to see him better, as the mist cleared up, and her vision returned. She saw him smirking, and occasionally looking over at his own hand, as if he was anticipating that dreadful wave, and that he didn’t necessarily have any control over it. There was a chance that an actual wave of that hand could trigger the mass death that he was warning them about. “State your terms,” Leona responded, making herself fully visible again, and staring back at him with an expression of professionalism, but not letting herself appear weak, or submissive to him.
“Call your boy back. I wanna take a look at that pretty purple ship o’ yours.”
Leona tapped on her comms. “Ramses, come back. Open a channel, and ask for a place to dock.”
I’m on my way, sweet girl,” Ramses replied.
Bronach dropped his hand and chuckled. “I admit, we can’t detect if that message went out, or if you’re bluffing, but you go ahead and send another one. He has ten minutes, or I’m killing one of you. Then it’s one person every...thirty minutes, I guess.”
“He heard,” Leona explained.
I’ll be there in five.
“He’ll be here in five. Tell him where to go.”
Bronach looked up at his man-servant, and nodded. The man-servant walked away with purpose. Bronach stood back up himself, and suggested that the team do the same. “No more tricks, please. I’m an honest man. We may disagree, but know that. I don’t like to lie, and I don’t like to fake it.”
Leona stood, and took a breath. “Even Donald Trump didn’t drink alcohol. Doesn’t make him a saint.” The rest of the team stood as well, now visible.
Bronach laughed. “I don’t know who that is.” He started to wander around the room, playing with the mist that continued to fall, though it was no longer neon. “Do you know why I called this place Ex-42?”
“Because it holds the answer to life, the universe, everything?” Olimpia figured.
“No,” Bronach contended. “Wrong reference. It’s because the information stored here keeps the island from blowing up. He placed airquotes around the words, implying a connection to the show LOST, though it was difficult to comprehend a reality where an alien had a frame of reference for that and Douglas Adams, but not Trump. He smiled. “And it does more than that. It does a lot more.”
Remember the lining of your suit?” Ramses asked through comms. “You noticed how different it was from the standard model. Open your hands, and tap both of those seams twice fast with your pinkies. The hot pocket is about to explode, so on my mark...” He waited for a few seconds. “Now!
The seams that he was talking about were around their crotches. The gesture that he was describing carried a crude meaning, which was surely the point. But still, they had to do it, and they did it in sync. Personal force fields formed around them just in time for the explosion that blasted into the room. The ship was not designed with a weapon, but that heat shunt could be purged safely...or not so safely. They were protected, but not unmoved, by the eruption. It threw them across the room, but they didn’t run into a wall. Instead, they landed in a river outside.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Fluence: Amal (Part IX)

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Eight Point Seven took hold of Goswin, and laid him gently onto the floor. Blood leaked out of him like a popped water balloon. He screamed when Iolanta instinctively applied pressure to his wound, forgetting that her hands were covered in citrus juice. Airlock Karen drenched his abdomen with water. Eight Point Seven was not a doctor, but she had all necessary medical knowledge in her memory banks, because there was no reason not to. “Briar! Briar! I need a med kit.”
Briar was wrestling with A.F., trying to get the knife out of the man’s hands, but also maybe trying to kill him?
“I can get it,” Weaver replied.
“No!” Eight Point Seven argued. “He needs to be the one to do it! Briar, go find me some gauze! Now!”
Briar let go of the attacker, and ran off. Iolanta followed. “I know where the nearest infirmary is!” she explained.
One of the other Goswins, who had chosen to remain here, climbed up the ladder, and approached with no sense of urgency. “I know what to do.”
“I know what to do too,” Eight Point Seven spit.
“You can’t save him,” Goswin!Three explained. The numerical designations were largely arbitrary. This was the first shifted Goswin who needed one, but Weaver!Two’s Goswin was presumably Goswin!Two. “We shifted into the Fifth Division, which is where that guy is from. That blade is poisoned. If there’s a treatment, it’s not here.”
“Is that where we should go?” Eight Point Seven questioned. “The Fifth Division?” She looked behind him to see the rest of Goswin!Three’s crew appear up the stairs. They look disheveled and tired. Their experiences were apparently not nearly as safe and easy. Who knows what else they had been through?
“You wouldn’t know where to look, and neither would we,” Goswin!Three clarified. “Besides, all members of a crew must be conscious to shift.”
“So, what would you have me do?” Eight Point Seven was desperate. She had all this medical knowledge, but no tools, and she wasn’t a miracle worker. She at least needed to stop the bleeding, even if they still had a poison to worry about. Where the hell was Briar with that first aid kit?
“Let us take him,” Goswin!Three offered. “He needs to visit the Magnolia.”
“What would be the purpose of that?” Weaver questioned.
“You must not have had enough time to study it,” a shifted Weaver said. “It does more than you think. Trust us. He needs to go to Bida.”
“He doesn’t have much time,” the other Briar claimed.
“We should trust them,” Goswin!Prime struggled to say through the bubbles of blood popping out of his mouth.
“No,” Eight Point Seven tried to reason. “If you’re conscious, then let’s all focus on a medical professional in a medical facility. Somewhere in the Fifth Division, you say? We don’t need to know where to look. That’s what our power is for. It looks for us, we just have to concentrate on it. Gos? Gos!”
“He’s out again,” the other Goswin said. “We have to go now, but we won’t do it without consensus.”
Weaver!Prime took a half step forward. “You have it. I’m second in command. When he’s out, it falls to me. Eight Point Seven, let him go.”
“We’re obviously going with you,” Eight Point Seven insisted.
Everyone shifted to the location of the Memory Magnolia on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. This included the other shifted crews who chose to stay, as well as the warmonger crew. Even Briar!Prime and Iolanta were shifted with them, each cradling as much medical paraphernalia as they could carry. A version of either Weaver or Holly Blue was standing at the tree. She was wearing steampunk goggles, and inspecting the bark of the tree. It was much larger than the last time the Primes saw it.
“We need the sap,” Goswin!Three demanded.
Weaver!Four turned, but left her goggles on. “This kind of tree doesn’t have sap in the way that you’re thinking. If you just give me some time—”
“There’s no time, dipshit!” Weaver!Three argued. She pushed her other, other self out of the way as she approached the tree. She held her hand out by her hip, using her power to shift a spile out of some other time and place. She dropped her other hand, and shifted a drill into that one.
“No. I’ll do it,” the other Eight Point Seven insisted. She ignored the drill, and took the spile from her Weaver. She placed it against the bark of the tree, but didn’t jam it in immediately. She used her other hand to feel around the trunk until she found the right place well above her head, which she moved the spile too. She twisted it at first to begin making the dent before it was sufficiently deep. Then she forced it the rest of the way in. Once it was evidently ready, she placed her hands on either side of the trunk, and closed her eyes.
“No, I’ll do it,” Goswin!Three echoed her from earlier.
“You’ve already given too much,” the Weaver!Three reminded him.
“I’ll do it,” the Briar!Three volunteered instead.
“We’ll need a lot,” his version of Goswin warned him. “You’ll have to sacrifice a lot of memories, and that could kill you.”
“It’s for a Prime,” Briar reasoned.
“No,” Weaver!Prime jumped in. “Goswin wouldn’t want someone to die for him.”
Briar!Three smiled. “No one ever really dies. I am a wave returning to the ocean.” He placed his own hands around the tree like his Eight Point Seven did, and shut his eyes. He stood there for a few minutes, sometimes smiling, sometimes frowning. Finally, he shifted away, perhaps into oblivion. An amber sap began to flow from the spile. Goswin!Three jumped up to it, simultaneously shifting a golden grail into his hand. Once he had collected enough, he held up his free hand as if merely asking a waiter to stop adding parmesan. The sap stopped flowing after it let out the last few drops.
“Is he gone?” Briar!Prime asked regarding his shifted self.
Gone is a relative term,” Goswin!Three replied vaguely as he was slipping the sap between his shifted self’’s lips. “There’s a little bit of him in all of the other Briars now. We’re all only extensions of one person. That’s what makes us different from normal alternate selves. Identity is preserved, just...split.”
Tamerlane Pryce slowly began to climb the hill up towards the Magical Memory Magnolia. “What does that mean for those of us who don’t have any shifted selves?”
“Same thing it means for anyone,” Goswin!Three began. “You are just you.”
“But the tree,” Pryce tried to clarify. “What would happen if I were to...sacrifice a memory to it? Or all of my memories, which is presumably what caused your Briar to disappear.”
“That’s not our problem right now,” Eight Point Seven!Prime exclaimed. “How long is this miracle sap supposed to take? He’s not waking up.”
Goswin!Three checked Goswin!Prime’s pulse. “He may be too far gone. His heart is still beating, but barely. It should have worked by now.”
“You said gone isn’t really gone,” Briar!Prime pointed out.
“It’s complicated, okay?”
Everyone kept arguing while Pryce only stared longingly at the tree, and Iolanta warned him off of it. It was too dangerous, but he had to know. He would soon get his chance to find out, but not quite yet. Goswin!Prime was indeed gone, but not in the way that anyone here was imagining it. He found himself standing on an asteroid in the middle of outerspace. There was no atmosphere, but he felt no need to breathe. Only a few faint stars were in the sky, but they were moving as the asteroid rotated on its axis. From behind the hill, the Earth came into view. Except it wasn’t Earth. It was a warped abomination of many Earths, twisted around, and melded into, each other. It looked like how someone would draw the Earth if they kept messing up, and instead of finding a new piece of paper, just drew the next attempt on top of the old one. No one could have survived whatever happened to it, yet he wasn’t alone.
Some version of Briar walked up to him, and watched the Earth amalgam continue to rise in the sky over their head. “This is the result.”
“The result of what?” Goswin asked him.
“Of us,” Briar answered. “Us and our shifted selves. We just keep shifting, and these are the consequences. We start out with the best of intentions, obviously. We shift Hitler out of history to prevent the Holocaust. It works, but the war still happens, and people keep dying. So we keep shifting, a person here, a building there to avoid a tsunami. Shift this, shift that, shift who we believe to be an anachronistic visionary to another point in time. Shift entire groups of people. We try to remake the world in our image, and eventually, we just move the Earth itself. To compound the issue, we’ve already been shifted, so competing crews are running around, making their own adjustments to the timeline. The conflicts arose exponentially, and we couldn’t stop it. That’s what’s happened with that.” The amalgamation disappeared beyond the horizon. It wouldn’t be long before it was back.
“We break time,” Goswin acknowledged. “Time travel is always bad, no matter what you’re trying to do with it. We think it’s better, but it’s just movement...unless you’re a shifted one, that we end up with an amalgamated Earth.”
“That would seem to be the case, despite the fact that some of our best friends are time travelers. What’s to be done about it?”
Briar shrugged. “Some tried to go back in time to stop it from ever happening, but guess what?”
“It just backfired,” Goswin realized. “That’s the whole point.”
“That’s the whole point,” Briar echoed. “But you,” he went on. “You’re here to catch a glimpse of your future.” He put the last word in airquotes. “Perhaps you really can fix it before it starts.”
“How could that be possible?”
“How is any of this possible? Use your imagination. That’s what our power really is. We manifest what we imagine into reality, not by conjuring new constructs out of nowhere, but by shifting what already exists from one point to another.”
“Thanks for being so cryptic.”
“I’m not telling you how to fix it, not as some life lesson so you’ll come to the right answer on your own, but because I don’t know it. I was one of the ones who tried to fix it before, and it obviously didn’t work. That’s how we got the Amal.” He pointed at the Earth as it was coming into view once more.
“Amal,” Goswin whispered, getting an idea from his imagination.
“Yeah,” Briar agreed, though he did not understand what he was agreeing with.
Goswin shifted a goblet of Arthurian sap into his hand, but kept looking at his enemy-turned-friend. “I figured out your problem. You were trying to fix it on your own.” He held the goblet up to his face to prepare to drink. “It’s going to take us all.” He poured it down his gullet, and suddenly woke up in his originally body, back on the ground in the middle of the forest on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.
“Tammy, no!” Iolanta was shouting.
Pryce reached out towards the Miracle Magical Memory Magnolia, and placed a hand upon its bark. He disappeared much quicker than Briar did. Iolanta was holding onto his free hand, and disappeared along with him.
Goswin!Prime got himself to his feet. “It doesn’t matter. It will all be over soon.”
“Something happened to you,” Goswin!Three guessed. “You went somewhere...saw something.”
Goswin!Prime smiled at his shifted self, and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Then, without warning, he shifted him back into his own mind and body.
“What did you just do?” Eight Point Seven!Three asked.
Goswin!Prime shut his eyes, and shifted her into Eight Point Seven!Prime. Then he did the same for the other Weavers, and A.F. He took hold of the hands of each of his compatriots, and synchronized their neural signals. They reached out into the cosmos, to every shifted self, in every point in time, in every timeline, in every reality, and even some who managed to escape this universe, and enter another. He summoned them all to this small clearing in the forest, a hundred of them at a time. They were only here for a second before he absorbed them, even the copies that were not alternates of the core four, like Ellie and Paige. They absorbed them all, back to where they belonged in their respective bodies. One body each.
Now that that was over, and all was right with the world, they still had one more issue. The four of them turned to face the Mysterious Miracle Magical Memory Magnolia. Colors were flowing around the trunk and branches, radiating with energy. The space around it was distorted as it pulsated with power. It almost looked like it was getting ready to explode, and they couldn’t say what that would mean for anyone standing near it, or on the planet at the time, or hell, all of time. The crew was back together, but the rules of reality were still broken, and floating down a river of chaos.
“Something has to be done about that,” Goswin decided.
“The bark receives memories, the leaves store it, and the sap heals. What do the roots do? What do the fruits do?” Briar questioned.
“I see no fruits,” Eight Point Seven pointed out.
“It’s probably only a matter of time,” Weaver figured. “Some plants take years to mature enough to bear fruit.
“Something has to be done about it,” Goswin repeated himself.
“I have an idea,” Weaver said. “But it’s going to require more shifting, and I can’t predict the consequences. Have any of you ever heard of the Garden Dimension?”

Friday, April 26, 2024

Microstory 2135: Maybe it Changed His Life

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I’m feeling better today than I have in a week. I’m still not allowed to go into jail this evening, but I can’t imagine that I won’t be able to get back to our regularly scheduled programming next weekend. I’m still frustrated that I’ll have to extend my sentence because of my medical issues, but this is where procrastination helps. People all my life have told me that I should be more responsible, and to just get things done once I know that they need to be done, rather than sitting around, and putting them off. But that’s not always true, they just might not realize it. One time I had to replace my door in my house, and then I was left with this extra door that I didn’t wanna deal with. I put it by the curb, and waited for someone to pick it up. After a while, my mom started to nag me to bring it into the garage, so we could do something else with it, but The Walking Dead was on, so no. That sounded like a job for Future!Tav. Days later, a guy knocked on my door to ask if he could have the old door. I don’t know how important it was to him. Maybe he just broke it up, and used it for firewood for one day. Or maybe it changed his life forever. I’d like to imagine the latter. There have been other times when procrastinating has helped me, and I’ve felt lucky that I didn’t waste my time. Timing isn’t always about early versus late. It’s a lot more complicated than that, and no human is capable of fathoming the profound complexities of cause and effect. All I’m saying is that maybe it will end up better that I have an extra 64 hours of jail time. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, which suggests that there’s some god-like critter that’s moving us around like chess pieces, and trying to attain some goal, but maybe everything will at least end up all right, if only through 20/20 hindsight. While I wait, I’m just gonna keep doin’ my thang. I’ll see ya next week.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Microstory 2134: All a Big Trade-off

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I’m back home, even though I’ve not yet recovered from my infection. My lawyer argued to the judge that it was possible that the food I was given in the prison was potentially poisoned, and my distaste for it was not simply the result of another symptom of the fungus. This would be a reach, as I’m sure you’re assuming, except that this facility has a suspiciously deep history with poison. There have been other cases that were not ambiguous, and which involved guards in more than one instance. That doesn’t prove that I was indeed poisoned, because they couldn’t pinpoint anything in my body, but that was enough to get me a compassionate release. I’m obviously not completely free. I still can’t leave my apartment, and since I can’t be monitored around the clock anymore, I can’t go back to jail this weekend for my normal two-day stint. This is a complicated situation, because skipping a weekend comes with an automatic incursion of an extra 64 hours. Here’s the math. I was originally sentenced to 1000 hours. I’m scheduled to go inside at 18:00 every Friday, and come out at 18:00 on Sunday. That’s 48 hours each time. Multiply that by 20, and you get 960 hours. That means on the 21st weekend, I could have left at 10:00 on Sunday. But now I’m up to 1064 total. So it’s more than just one additional weekend. After that, I still have an extra eight hours to take care of during a 23rd weekend. And this will keep happening each time I have to push it back, even if it’s not my fault. This is just how the law works. The judge is not at liberty to make any sort of exception due to my illness. That’s probably for the best, or people would be calling in sick when they’re not, just like they do when they don’t want to go to work, or perhaps more commonly, school. My time in house arrest doesn’t count towards my quota. My time in the prison medical ward, while it was supposed to last for seven days, only covered the original 48 hours that I owed. It wasn’t supposed to last more than a week either way. It’s all a big trade-off, but I would still say that I’m glad to be back here, even with this ankle monitor. I have more space to move around, I have better internet, and I eat whatever I want. Plus, I’m still making my own hours, which gives me extra time to sleep in my nice and comfortable bed. In the prison, I found that I could only work during certain times, or the connection was excruciatingly slow. That often meant getting up in the middle of the night, and I’m not about that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Microstory 2133: Sweet in an Alarming Way

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Though the tests suggest that I’m recovering from my infection, I just had a bizarre experience this morning. Prison food is mostly bland. I think it kind of has to be, because that type of food is easier to work with, and you don’t have to worry about people not liking the taste, because everyone hates it. I don’t love that, but it’s been easy to keep down, because that’s all they’re giving me. I’m much better at following rules when I’m being essentially forced to. When I was dieting, trying to maintain my food plan without cheating was really difficult, because I was always only truly accountable to myself. I wasn’t dating anyway, so it didn’t matter how I looked to others. Anyway, the taste was strong with my breakfast, and I can only guess that the fungus is messing with my taste buds. It was just a bran muffin with oatmeal. That’s it. The oatmeal wasn’t even heated up in milk; just water. Pretty boring, wouldn’t you say? No one loves that kind of food, even if they eat that sort of thing all the time. The first thing I noticed was the smell. I can’t really describe it to you. Because of my seasonal allergies, I never developed a good sense of smell, so I don’t have a very good frame of reference. But it was rancid. Still, I ate it, because I didn’t have options. The oatmeal had no smell at all, but it tasted sort of sweet in a really alarming way. There was no flavoring added to it. It was meant to be plain. This all reminds me of a time in college when I thought the pastries I bought had gone bad, but then I realized that I gargled some mouthwash not too long prior, so that was what was weird about it. Still, I remember worrying that the thin fibers in that chocolate chip muffin looked like spiderwebs, so I threw it out to be safe. I feel all right this time, so I don’t think it’s just that the food went bad, or that there were any spiderwebs, but I’m not a doctor. I suppose it could actually be that I was poisoned. Maybe I should be more worried about that possibility. The doctor isn’t worried about it, and just shrugged it off as a fleeting symptom, which should go away when the fungus does. In the meantime, I’m gonna keep working, staring at the wall during breaks, and occasionally hanging from the pull-up bar. That’s as much as I can do. When I was a child, I set the record for the highest number of pull-ups, but now I can’t do even one. To be fair, I’m about three times the weight, and I don’t work out anymore. At one point, I was doing gymnastics three times a week, so my life is very different now, even excluding the whole jail time thing. I refused my lunch today, because I was still freaked out and nervous, but I’m going to have to eat something soon, so I’ll let you know tomorrow if the issue has persisted.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Microstory 2132: Don’t Have Anything Special

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The thing about being in prison all day and all night is that nothing about your situation changes. I promised that I would only use my computer for work and to update this blog, and I’ve held to that. You don’t know how hard it’s been to not sneak a peek at the news, or watch a funny video while I’m on a break. I don’t, though. When I’m not busy with something, I just go over to my bed and sit down to stare at the wall. I’m not even allowed to have anything to read, because books can’t be disinfected. The warden said that it would be okay if I read something on the computer, and that he would be more bothered by videos or games, but as I said, I made a commitment. I’m not going to go back on my word just because my life is now even more boring than it was before. I made the conscious decision to leave Kansas even though I was meant to stay put, and regularly report my goingson. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the warehouse where I contracted the fungus in the first place. That’s on me. The work I’ve been doing has been interesting enough, but I can’t tell you about it, since it’s privileged information. The rest of my posts this week are going to be short, I’m sure, unless something crazy happens, like if Michael Scofield suddenly showed up through a hole behind the toilet, and told me that we’re breaking out. That’s a reference to a TV show that you don’t have in this universe. Maybe that’s what I’ll do every time I don’t have anything special to tell you about my day; tell you more about how my homeworld worked, and how it’s different than yours. We’ll see. For now, I’ll just end this here, and implore you to use me as a cautionary tale. Things might not seem that bad, since I’ve been given so many accommodations, but my story is not typical, and it still sucks here. If I had the choice between prison or jail, or being completely free, I would choose freedom every day of the week.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Microstory 2131: Little Cell

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My fungal infection is evidently extremely contagious, so I’m in prison now, in a special wing of the facility for this very thing. Most of the other guys are in here to protect the other prisoners, though to varying degrees. I think a couple of them just need to be protected from others, for at least a period of time. The FBI is very serious about what’s happened to me. They know that this is the fourth time in as many months that I’ve been sick, so they’re not messin’ around. They sent investigators to every place I’ve been to, in Kansas City, Iowa, and even down in Alabama. I didn’t think that they would find anything, because it should be the proverbial needle in a haystack, but they actually confirmed the source of my infection. When I first escaped to Iowa, the ID makers (who, you’ll recall, kidnapped their daughter when she was little) set me up in an abandoned warehouse. They found traces of mold in the showers that I used to clean myself while I was staying there. So it was in me for a month before I started showing symptoms. Because of this, everyone I’ve come in contact with since then, including law enforcement agents, court staff, and even the teenage girl, who is now in witness protection, has to be tested. That’s going to take some time, which is going to stress me out quite a bit. I’ll just be devastated if it turns out that I infected someone else. Even the ID makers would be bad news. I just don’t like hurting people, and anyway, my lawyer says that they would be able to use it to their advantage in their own criminal case. All I can do is wait, and hope that I was careful enough so as to not infect anyone else. It’s not guaranteed that I did. I’ve never been a fan of being around other people, so I instinctively keep my distance, even when there’s no reason to suspect that anyone is sick. Hopefully it was enough.

For the time being, I’m just in my little cell. There are no windows, because that would expose the outside world to me, and vice versa. The bed is less comfortable than the ones in jail. The food isn’t as good. The correctional officers aren’t as nice. They know that my situation is different than everyone else in here, but they don’t really care. They’ve been trained to not treat people great, so that’s what they’re used to. As far as I’ve seen, they’re not abusive, but I would honestly be less surprised if I learned that they actually were. I don’t interact with them very much, as you would expect. I don’t get yard time, and I take all my meals inside the cell. If I want to work out, my only choice is a pull-up bar. Of course, I’m supposed to be resting and recovering right now, but I wouldn’t use it anyway, because I hate pull-ups. A nurse comes to check my vitals every two hours, and a doctor visits twice a day. The nurses take my blood occasionally too, to keep testing it. They think that I’m going to have to stay in here for the rest of the week. Even if I stop exhibiting symptoms, I could still be contagious. Fortunately, the judge agreed to give me a computer with internet access. This will allow me to start my job today, which is really important, because I don’t want to be fired on my first day. A big thanks to my parole officer, Leonard who fought for me. Obviously, since you’re reading this on a Monday, you know that I’ll be able to continue to post to my website too. There’s nothing stopping me from going to whatever site I want, but I want to commit right now to only using this for work and writing. Okay? You can verify that by monitoring my activity, I assume, prison officials. No funny business, I promise.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 23, 2444

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

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Fluence: Elder (Part VIII)

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