Friday, May 31, 2024

Microstory 2160: Trust the Wizard

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I don’t have anything to say today. Stuff did happen, but I can’t tell you about it. I’m pretty honest with this blog, but I don’t reveal everything to you. For instance, I’ve never gotten graphic with all of my many illnesses. I don’t talk about what kind of porn I watch either. Lol, I’m kidding, I don’t watch porn, I’m celibate. Sexuality has no place in any universe. Gross, stop thinking about that, you heathens. Anyway, I’m still depressed, but I’m working on it, with my therapist, and my parole officer, and by occupying my time with work and community service. I still don’t think that I’ll ever be happy, but things have been much worse for me in the past, and are presently worse for others in the world. The point is that I have little to complain about. I still miss Cricket and Claire, but when you add it up, it hasn’t been that long. Anniversaries are significant in the bulkverse. I’m sure something good will happen exactly one year after my arrival. Oo, if this were a fictional story, we would call that foreshadowing, but this is all real, so what could I possibly know about the future? I’m not a wizard. Well, I do know some things about the future. I know that I’m going to go to jail tonight. That’s the future, maybe I am a wizard. Trust the wizard. Ugh, I need a break from this site. I’ll be back to you Monday. In the meantime, enjoy a couple of daily social media posts, and whatever else you have going on in your life besides me. I’m assuming that you have other interests, but I guess it’s possible that your entire existence revolves around me, and my life. There is a theory that only one person exists in the universe, and everyone else is just a figment of their imagination, or some kind of extension of their subconscious. I shudder to think. If that were true, every time I picked my nose in private, or watched porn, all of you have been aware of it. I guess in that case, you wouldn’t be real anyway, but it would still be weird. Stay out of my private life!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Microstory 2159: Can’t Ever Be Happy

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Yesterday evening, I had my usual meeting with my therapist. We talked about the storm a little, but it was mostly about the volunteer work I’ve been doing. It was no big secret that I got an early jump on my community service due to the traumatizing meat-eating incident the other day. She was able to piece together that I’ve been pretty depressed about it, and I think I knew that; I just didn’t want to think about it. I’ve been filling my days with tons of stuff to do so that my brain doesn’t get a chance to stop and ponder my life choices. It’s been really hard on me. I feel like I’m an addict, and I just had a relapse. It’s super not the same thing as a real addiction, like drugs, or sex, or even food in general. I made a decision to become a vegetarian for several reasons, none of which was that it was harming my life, or causing issues with others. Even so, I made a commitment to stop, and I broke that promise to myself. It can’t be reversed. It will always mark a new beginning, but in a bad way. The streak cannot be repaired, no matter how long I live without ever doing it again. And that sucks. It’s gonna take a lot, and a lot of time, for me to be able to move past it, especially since depression always reinforces itself with dark thoughts on other things. I start to think about every bad thing that has happened to me in my life, and all the mistakes that I’ve made. I dwell on it, and everything negative. My therapist tried to figure out what brings me out of my funks, but I don’t know that anything ever really has. It just kind of stays with me. It subsides after things regress towards the mean, but I can’t ever be happy. Happiness is a concept that I only understand through the lens of relativity. I’ve been happier at times than at other times, but true contentment sounds impossible, and if you tell me that you’ve experienced it, I may not believe it. If you tell me that you’re in the middle of experiencing it, I can’t promise that I won’t punch you in the face, so just don’t give me that BS. Sorry, didn’t mean to become so violent, but it’s impossible to delete my words, so I won’t. I just don’t care for braggers. We get it, you love life, now shut up about it, and leave me to brood in the shadows.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Microstory 2158: No Such Thing as Extra

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I did more volunteer work today. After the storm, a bunch of people came together to help with the cleanup effort. This isn’t any sort of official organization. There’s a special social media app that they’re all on, where people can stay connected to each other based on proximity, rather than other reasons, like mutual interests. I only heard about it from my next door neighbor, because I’m not on the app, so I wasn’t a part of it from the beginning. They’ve done this sort of thing before, when there have been other issues. I picked up and broke down a lot of fallen limbs, which was not fun, but I did feel like I was getting a lot of important work done for people who were unable to do it for themselves. Working from home makes it a lot easier for me to just do stuff like this, and not everyone’s life is like that. Like I said, it wasn’t a real charitable organization, so I didn’t think that anyone could sign my community service log. So I just wasn’t going to bother, because I only did it for the one day, and I figured that it was just more of a rounding error. Apparently, that doesn’t matter for people in my position. When you’ve been sentenced to CS, there is no such thing as “extra” until that sentence has been completed, and then you’re free to choose whatever service work you choose, just like you can as a normal person. Don’t worry, though. I didn’t get in any trouble, or anything, but my parole officer is certain that he told me this before, and he’s probably right. That’s the thing about me. If someone claims that I should have known something, or that something happened in the past, I often kind of just have to believe them, because I can’t trust my own memory. Anyway, it’s fine; no harm done. I could never understand the legal ramifications, but essentially, I’m required to record it every time I volunteer my time or effort for anything more than holding the door open for someone. That’s okay. A thousand hours is the minimum, not the maximum. I think that this is all meant to get people used to the practice of giving back to the community, not just to punish them. But far be it for me to explain the judge’s intentions. That’s why they sit in that raised chair, and I’m over here. Ugh, I’m getting too philosophical. All I’m trying to tell you is that you don’t have to have a reason to help other people. You don’t have to be a convicted criminal, or a juvenile delinquent. This world is better for all of us when we all try to be better for it. That’s all I have for you today. Stay frosty, and keep shakin’ that bush.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Microstory 2157: Jail For Everyone

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All right, the power’s back, and we’re okay. I mean, we’re not okay. Three people died in the storm, and another in the aftermath. Did I not tell you that there was a storm? It didn’t seem that bad, but I was in jail at the time, and I don’t have a cell with windows. The wind was apparently really bad. It knocked a bunch of electrical poles over. Contractors from all over drove in to help restore power. I think I heard that some of them were from as far as Arkansas, which is so crazy to me. I could go into more detail about what I experienced during this time, but I think I’ve said just about everything I need to about it. I will tell you that my fridge and freezer did fine. I deliberately didn’t open either of them even once that whole time, to keep as much heat out as possible. I drank directly from the tap, and I had a peanut butter sandwich, since I couldn’t access the jelly. I know a lot of people had it a lot worse than I did. I was able to open some windows in my apartment to keep the air circulating. It was still hot, but not unbearable, and it went back to normal overnight. I was gonna try reading a book to pass the time, but I really only have these so my built-in bookcase doesn’t look empty and pathetic. I don’t actually like to read, and I don’t want to read any of them. I mostly just took naps, and went on a few walks. I took care of my plants and flowers, though, so that took all of ten minutes. There’s a bit of good news, though. For everyone who was in intermittent jail at the time of the power outage, or was scheduled to be while it was still going on, those days were erased from our respective sentences. That means that I don’t have to make up for it later, and push my end date further back than it already is. The way I’m guessing they reason it is that the power outage was basically jail for everyone, though they didn’t actually use that as an explanation. Either way, I’m grateful.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Microstory 2156: Whoopdee-Friggin-Do For You

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The power is out. It’s out all over the metro. It was that way in jail, which made things pretty miserable in there for several hours, but it’s no picnic out here either. First, I lost a day of jail time, which I will have to make up for at some point. They had to release us, because of the air conditioning problem. It’s particularly hot these days, so leaving us in there would have constituted cruel and unusual punishment. This post will be really short, because I had to go so far to find phone service. It’s pretty bad, hopefully it will be fixed later today. I flirted with just letting it go, and waiting until later, because that would have been easier. It’s taking a lot, just to get this out. Still, I didn’t want to leave you totally hanging, especially since I have a schedule to keep, so I drove clear to the other side of Kansas City to post this one little thing. Don’t worry, I’m not breaking the law. My parole officer, Leonard is with me. He had some of his own work to conduct, so it wasn’t a complete waste. We can’t spend much time out here, though, because he has to get back to check in with his other parolees, and I have to figure out what I’m gonna do for dinner tonight. Everything in my fridge is spoiling as we speak, because I had to open it for one bottle of water, and that let a whole bunch of warm air in, which won’t ever be cooled until the power comes back on. If you’re in the area, stay safe, and try to find a shelter nearby. They set them up in such events, and they are powered by generators. They’re not only for the unhoused. If you don’t live in the area, and your life is a-okay right now, then whoopdee-friggin-do for you!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: The Rock – Part 1

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Mateo teleported right behind the shooter, and snatched the weapon out of his hands. He then jumped several thousand kilometers away, into outer space, and left it there before returning. He blinked and breathed to get himself back to equilibrium. “Do not shoot my wife again please, nor anyone else.”
“He won’t,” the other masked person claimed. They removed their helmet to reveal herself to be someone they already knew.
“Kalea Akopa,” Leona acknowledged. “I assume there are multiple versions of you, so which are you, and what do you want with us?”
“I want nothing of you,” Kalea replied. “Forgive us for the theatrics. The last I heard, you were mixed up with the Goldilocks Corridor; a place like that can turn a person violent. I needed to see how you would react to violence against you.”
“What’s this Resonant Parallel Coalition?” Marie asked. “That sounds genuinely violent.”
Kalea nodded. “I’m afraid it is.” She sighed deeply. “I am the leader of the Parallel, but I’m not a king. There are too many people to manage, and they like to make their own decisions. Some of them have banded together to prepare for war in the Sixth Key.”
“Yes, we are aware of it,” Mateo explained. “We were going to try to help prevent it, I think, but then we got pretty sidetracked. Has it not begun?”
“We’re staving it off,” Kalea answered before adding, “...for now.”
“Yet you want us to join your little army,” Leona reminded her.
“No, Harbinger Zima wants you to join.” Kalea nodded towards her companion, who had yet to remove his own helmet.
“Harbinger?” Angela questioned simply.
Kalea was afraid to clarify, so she put it off until the last second before the pause in the conversation became too awkward. “He commands roughly 480 billion units. They’ve not started fighting yet, but...”
“Did you say billion with a B?” Mateo asked.
“That’s nothing compared to our total population,” Kalea said.
“It’s not nothing compared to every other military force that could possibly participate in the Reality Wars!” Leona screamed at her.
“As I said, I’m trying to stop it,” Kalea responded calmly. “He and I were in the midst of diplomatic discussions when we were both spirited here.”
Before the discussion could go any further, other people started to pop in out of nowhere. The first one they saw was Carlin McIver, who was much older now, but he was not alone. A teenage girl they didn’t know appeared to be accompanying him. Ellie Underhill showed up too, along with Lowell Benton. Princes Honeypea appeared unexpectedly, as did a bunch of people who the team didn’t recognize. Two of them were either twins, or duplicates of each other, like Angela and Marie. Everyone seemed equally confused, if only by coming to this place specifically, not that they were transported in the first place. The weirdest thing to happen was the giant Memory Magnolia tree from the Garden Dimension. It faded in and out of view, struggling to maintain coherence in this time and place. It never solidified either. Instead, Tamerlane Pryce was standing where it was. He was the only one who acted as if he knew what was going on.
Pryce stepped forward and breathed deeply the recycled air. “Thank you all for coming, and I say that completely sincerely, even though you did not have a choice. Some of you are familiar with this face. The man who originally wore it was named Tamerlane Pryce. I am not this man. I am the humanoid manifestation of the Tree of Life. I chose this form because I had access to it, but if you have any strong feelings for him, please do not put them onto me. I’m just...a ghost.”
The crowd stared at him. “Right,” a woman in full military dress said. “You’re a tree. I suppose that is a flower?” She pointed out Honeypea.
Honeypea did a short little dance full of twirling and bowing. “I am a Horticulturalist. Pleased to meet you all.”
“Why are we here?” It was Ingrid Something. She was the one leader in the Fifth Division who refused to fight for her position in the deadly competition that saw Leona’s entire team get destroyed, which meant that she was the only one not to lose that position when Leona ultimately won. “I think we’re all thinking that.”
The personification of the Magnolia nodded Tamerlane Pryce’s head. He started talking with his hands like he was giving a Ted Talk. “You are on the brink of war. I saw it. The Nucleus saw. Team Matic sees it. I think I can help you put a stop to it, but it’s not going to be fun for you. It’s going to take hard work, diplomacy, and perhaps even your entire lives. You may die here, and in doing so, could save quintillions and quintillions of other people’s lives.”
“Excuse me.” One of the twins stepped towards the Pryce Tree. “What the fuck are you talking about? As far as I know, we are not on the brink of war.”
The Pryce tree nodded again. “You live in something called the main sequence. Your whole reality was copied, along with your alternate self over there, who you have been desperately trying to ignore, because he makes you uncomfortable. It is he who is at the brink of war, as are many others here. But you are not all here for being aggressors. You are here as representatives. One person from each reality, as well a second to serve as their compatriot, has been selected for The Rock Meeting. I’m here representing the interests of life itself, and Princess Honeypea is my second. Pontus here will represent the Nucleus with the aid of his own second, who has not yet been chosen. Ellie and Lowell are here for Fort Underhill. They have already been doing what they can to stop the war from their side of the mid-universe membrane, so I believe that they can continue to help.” He smirked, and looked over at Leona, and the rest of Team Matic. “You think you’re only onlookers, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry?” Leona questioned.
“You think your arrival here is unrelated,” Pryce Tree went on. “You came here on purpose, or so you believe. Make no mistake, you are not getting out of this. You’ll be a part of the discussions as well.”
“Why would we be there?” Leona pressed. “We do not represent any reality, nor any other significant stronghold. We didn’t even bring our ship with us.”
“Yes, we did,” Ramses countered, tapping on his backpack, where the Vellani Ambassador apparently was.
Pryce Tree chuckled. “Why do you think I helped Marie get him back for you? Your ship is vital to the negotiations. We’re going to use it for how it was designed. So go ahead, Mister Abdulrashid...let it out.”
Ramses looked to Leona for guidance, but she could see that she was not the one in charge here. If a magical tree with access to every point in spacetime wanted him to release their ship, then that ship was getting released, regardless of how she felt about it. It was powerful enough to appear to them in the form of an avatar, who knows what else it could do? So he unlocked his pack from its magnetic seal, opened it, and removed the ship. Like Hank Pym, he was carrying it around as if it were nothing more than a scale model. He turned around and hunched over it, probably to input some kind of coded sequence. Then he tossed it out into the vast open space like a paper airplane. Once it was sufficiently far away, it expanded to full size, and landed gently on the floor. Some people were impressed by this, while others weren’t, or were at least trying to act like they had been there. Ramses clicked his special remote to open the main entrance.
“Everyone in,” Pryce Tree ordered.
“And if we refuse?” another stranger offered.
“If you don’t stop this war, you’re never going home, so you can either contribute...or derail it, and stay here forever,” Pryce Tree warned.
“You said that we might die here anyway, as some kind of noble sacrifice,” the stranger reminded the tree.
“If you die for peace, you can come back to life; I can do that. If you die because you refuse to help, you’ll just stay dead, and no one will remember you. Literally. I can do that too.”
They all started to walk up the ramp. Olimpia took it upon herself to lead them in, showing them where Delegation Hall was, as well as the rest of the Ambassador, which was designed with private meeting rooms, a galley, and lounge areas. The rest of the team held back, as did the Magnolia. “We do not need to be part of the negotiations,” Leona insisted. “We’re happy to host, but that is all we can do. The rest is way above our paygrade. None of us is anywhere near qualified to mediate serious discussions.”
“You’re the captain,” the tree began. “You control their movements, their actions, and where the ship goes once it leaves this place. Ramses is the engineer. Olimpia will make a fine Hospitality Manager. The Waltons actually are counselors. They will be directly involved in the discussions.”
Mateo laughed. “Anyone here need a personal driver?”
The tree smiled at him. “You’ll just be around. I didn’t see a point in bringing your entire team in except for you. Where else would you go?”
“Are you kidding me?” Ellie was the last representative to head for the ship. “You have a job here too. You went to every reality before they were absorbed into the Sixth Key. You’ve been to other universes. You know all these people, or they know you.”
“So, what? Everyone on my team boasts the same résumé,” Mateo pointed out.
“But you see it from a different perspective,” Ellie went on. “All of us here; we’re important. People look to us for guidance, for our leadership. We make decisions, and others have to follow them. You are one of those people, and you can speak to their interests better than any of us can. They are the ones we’re fighting for, yet we don’t understand them. I’m sorry, Tree, but representative in this situation is a joke. You can’t boil this impending war down to a couple dozen people. We need more Mateos, not fewer.”
“Hm.” The tree seemed genuinely surprised by this. “That’s a good point. Let’s televise this.” He snapped Pryce’s fingers.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Orthogradient: Quino and Rosalinda (Part III)

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Quino and Rosalinda covered their ears as Treasure screamed her way into a portal, and disappeared, hopefully back home. They held their hands in place, because the plan was for her to return to this very moment. If she had listened to Quino’s pleadings, she would be a few years older, and a little more age appropriate for him. Something must have gone wrong, though, because they waited for a couple minutes, and nothing. He dropped his arms in defeat. Rosalinda smiled at him sadly, and patted him on the back. They didn’t speak. They could only hope that Treasure moved on with her life, and forgot about them, not that she had gotten hurt, or worse, and couldn’t come back. They were going to be stuck here forever, but it wasn’t going to be that bad. There weren’t any dangerous people or aliens, and the Strongbox was stocked with enough supplies to get them through the next few weeks. They both stepped forward to admire the view. They were on a grassy cliff, overlooking the beautiful scenery below, and in the distance.
“Wait!” a masculine voice shouted to them from down the hill behind them, and through the trees. “Don’t leave without me!” He came out of the forest, running as fast as he could, and struggling with it.
“It’s okay!” Quino shouted back. “Catch your breath!”
The man stopped, grateful. He rested his hands on his knees, and panted. He squinted at the sun, and held up one finger.
“We won’t leave without you,” Quino added, “...and also can’t.”
“What?” When Quino tried to explain that they were just as trapped there as him, he dismissed them. “Hold on.” He mustered a second wind, and started running again, but quickly fell into a jog.
They might have gone down to meet them halfway, but even though Quino wasn’t a real soldier, one thing he learned from the ones he worked with was that the first rule of warfare was to always maintain the higher ground. The other first rule of warfare was to force your enemy to come to you. They didn’t know if this man was an enemy, or not, but they had to assume as much for the time being.
The stranger finally made it up to them. “What did you say?”
“We can’t leave,” Rosalinda clarified.
“That thing behind you can’t do it? I guess I assumed that that’s how you got here yourselves. There’s no one else on this planet.”
“It only works with a particular pilot,” Quino said, obviously not about to mention Treasure by name, and hoping that even this wasn’t too much information.
“Well, shit.” He set his hands on his hips, and looked out at the view as he finished the last of his panting.
“How did you get here, friend?” Rosalinda asked. “We were to understand that this world was not populated by any intelligent species.”
He looked back where he had come from. “I sure hope not. I was trying to figure out how to make a campsite when I saw your ship fly overhead. I dropped the sticks, and started running right for it. Then I heard someone scream? Was that your pilot? What happened to her?”
“She had to go somewhere else,” Quino said.
“My name is Rosalinda James. This is Quino Velsteran.”
“Adalwin Tillens. Welp, if I have to live here for the rest of my life, at least I won’t be  here alone.”
“We’re not staying,” Quino assured him without offering him a way out of here, which should come eventually.
“Neither am I...hopefully.”
“How did you get here in the first place?” Rosalinda asked him.
Adalwin sighed. “There’s this group of people who can do what your friend can. They...leak portals out of their skin, and fall into them. They can bring people with them, and I was in need of escaping a dangerous situation, so I asked for help. I was with them for a little bit before I failed to get back to them in time, and they left without me.”
“They didn’t wait for you?” Rosalinda questioned.
“Yeah, there must be something wrong with you,” Quino added, thinking that he and Rosalinda were on the same page.
“I meant,” Rosalinda began, “if there is nothing dangerous on this world, what was the rush?”
“Oh, they don’t have control over it,” Adalwin clarified. “It just happens. They have to stay close to one another if they want to go to the same place. They’ve become separated from friends that way. I don’t know what it’s like when you do it, but for them, it’s like this psychedelic waterslide, which branches off into different directions, so you have to hold on and be careful. Stay with your sliding buddy, they would always say.” He sighed again. “I should have listened.” He perked up. “But you’re here now, and everything is going to be okay again...right?”
Rosalinda was hoping that Quino would agree, since she was obviously on board with helping this man. “Right,” she said herself, giving up. “We’ll get you out of here, one way or another. Come on, Qui-qui, let’s see if we can figure out whether this thing stores bulk energy, or what.”
“Yeah, come on, Qui-qui,” Adalwin encouraged jovially.
“You don’t call me that,” Quino warned as they were walking up to the Strongbox.
They stepped inside, and started looking through the computer. There actually was a little bit of bulk energy in the reserves, but none of them knew enough about how this stuff worked to know whether it was enough. Besides, Treasure wasn’t only essential to the operation of the machine because she could power it, but she also navigated it. According to Treasure’s teacher back in her homeworld, Thack Natalie Collins, traveling the bulk either required extremely precise mathematical calculations and-or foreknowledge, or psychic capacity. Anyone could figure out how to go where they wanted, as long as they had the right tools at their disposal, but people like Treasure had this gift naturally as an extension of their ability to utilize bulk energy. Quino and Rosalinda were not practiced enough to be comfortable navigating on their own, even if they could figure out how to get this thing running. Or maybe it wasn’t practice at all, but mental zen, or whatever. See? They didn’t even know.
“I’ve done it a few times myself,” Adalwin said. “Perhaps I can be your navigator.”
“Navigate us where?” Quino pressed. “Back home, or to one of the worlds you were on before? We’re not trying to go to any of those places. We’re trying to go to...” Quino trailed off before he said something too specific about Treasure.
“Salmonverse,” Rosalinda said. “That’s where we should go. Only there will we find someone who can help. They have all sorts of time travelers there. Someone will know something. If we try to go where...our friend is...” She gave him a look.
Quino understood. She wasn’t an idiot. This man was a stranger, and he couldn’t be trusted. Voldisilaverse was vulnerable to attack. Treasure’s mother’s home brane, however, was equipped with people who could combat a threat, including an unknown one. “Yeah, you’re right.” He kind of kicked at the console, but not angrily. “We still have no way to get this moving, though, if there’s even enough of that stuff.”
“I may have some on hand,” Adalwin volunteered.
“Bulk energy?” Rosalinda questioned. “Why would you have any of that?”
“As I said, we’re watersliders,” Adalwin started to explain. “And water is sticky. It stays with you. That’s why the originals can’t stop falling into their portals, because their bodies just keep producing it against their will. They think they could be free if they drained themselves of literally all water, and replaced their blood from donors, but I don’t think that’s medically possible. Anyway, I’m not like them, but just by accompanying them a few times, I have some liquid bulk on my body. It’s not enough to turn me into a full slider, but it may be enough to add to what you already have.”
“How would you go about doing that?” Quino asked, even more suspicious of him. “You gonna pee into the engine?”
Adalwin laughed. “No, it’s nothing crazy like that.” He kept laughing for a moment before dropping into his serious face. “No, I would bleed into it.”
“We’re not going to let you do that,” Rosalinda contended. “Neither of us is a doctor, and I’m sure that Tr—our friend is on their way.”
“It’s okay.” Adalwin slipped a knife out of his pocket, flung it open with a flick of his wrist, and chuckled when they tensed up into defensive positions. “It will all leak from one cut. All I’ll need is a bandage. Surely this Strongbox has a medkit.”
Quino tensed up even more. “I never told you what this was called.”
“What?” Adalwin asked.
“The Strongbox. I literally just named it. I only told two people.”
Adalwin dismissed it as a concern. “Heh. Time, right? I’ve heard of it before.”
“Funny, five minutes ago, you were just guessing that it was a means of escape,” Rosalinda pointed out. “Which is it, you’ve heard of it before, or you were only hoping that it would save you?”
Adalwin dropped the act, and tossed the knife from one hand to the other.
Quino took out his sidearm, and trained it at Adalwin.
“The blade really is for me,” Adalwin insisted. He turned the tip downwards, and sliced his own forearm open. It was small, as he promised, but that wasn’t the point.
It was not worth the risk. Quino would rather die here than put Treasure in danger. This man lied about who he was, and that alone was enough to make Quino wary of him, even though they would never learn the truth. He had to protect his love, whether she would want him to or not. She may never look at him the same again, but she’ll be alive. He would always shield her from danger. He squeezed the trigger, and let the bullet strike right into Adalwin’s lying throat.
Adalwin—or whatever his real name was—reached up and tried to push the blood back into his body as he was choking on it. A lot of it spilled out anyway, and dropped to the floor, as did the blood from the cut on his arm. The lighting in the Strongbox intensified slightly, and the engine revved up. He was right about one thing, his body had some bulk energy in it. And apparently this machine was designed to absorb it no matter where it came from, or where it landed. Adalwin backed himself against the wall, and slouched down towards the floor before he died.
Quino breathed heavily through his nose. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t blame you,” Rosalinda replied. “I couldn’t have done it myself, but—but, hey.” She turned his chin towards her when he tried to look away in shame. “But I wanted to. Like he said, time has little meaning for our lives anymore. We’ve already met people who knew who we and Treasure were before we showed up. He could have done the same thing, but he played dumb. He was hiding something, and something tells me it wasn’t that he once called his neighbor a dirty word. He was hiding something big. Big and bad.”
Quino nodded, but still wouldn’t look her in the eye. “I’ll bury the body and clean up the mess.”
“You can bury the body,” Rosalinda agreed, “but I’ll clean up. We’re in this together.” She eyed the bulk reserves, which had gone up slightly. “Actually, you go ahead and go out to dig the grave. I have to do something first.”
“Okay.” He didn’t see what she was looking at, or guess what she was thinking. He grabbed a power shovel from the storage locker, grateful that someone thought to pack tools. He probably wouldn’t have thought of it since he had never once set foot on real soil until he met Treasure. He was going to dig a shallow grave to make it easier, but this dirt was soft, and not too difficult to cut through, so he decided that it was better to go the normal depth. The shovel’s motor did a lot of the work. When he was finished, he went back to drag the body down the hill. It was waiting for him outside the Strongbox, propped up against the exterior hull. It was a lot lighter than he expected. There was something unusual about the skin, and as he inspected it, Quino realized that the hole in the neck was bigger than it should have been. “What did you do?”
Rosalinda was still scrubbing the blood from the floor, and she didn’t stop. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“His blood. It’s been drained. It’s all gone.”
Rosalinda stopped scrubbing, but still didn’t look up. “I did what I had to to get us out of here. Treasure is a time traveler. If she were ever coming back, she would have done so already. It doesn’t matter how long she spent out there, she would be here now. I’m sorry, but we both know that.”
He looked up at the bulk reserves, which were now full. “We still don’t know how to navigate this thing.”
She went back to her work. “We’ll figure it out. I don’t care where we go, but we’re not staying here.”
Quino stepped back through the hatch, but stopped for a second. “There are worse worlds than this. If we do manage to leave, I’m sure we’ll become acutely aware of that.” He left again, and carried Adalwin’s body to the grave. He gently placed it down on the bottom, and then climbed back up to fill it up. He scattered the excess around, so no one would suspect that anything was here, and even planted a few grass seeds to cover up the evidence eventually. He didn’t say a few words, and Rosalinda never came down to visit the unmarked grave. Once they were both showered, they quietly went back to the controls to see if they could do something productive with them.
They found Treasure Hawthorne standing at the entrance. “I’m back. Sorry if you were waiting and worried. Thack told me to return eight hours late. She wouldn’t say why.” She smiled as she was taking a trinket out of her pocket, then extended her arms towards Quino. “Here. I made you something.”

Friday, May 24, 2024

Microstory 2155: Tiny Home Community

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You’ll recall that I was planning to put off my community service hours until I was finished with my jail time. This was the best decision at the time, because it meant that I wasn’t trying to pile everything on all at once. If I had tried to rush through it, I would have gotten burnt out, and probably had a nervous breakdown. Other than that, though, there’s no other reason that I can’t start working through my hours earlier if I want. Before I get into it, I have one last update about that business deal that I’ve been working on. They pulled out of it. Completely. They made it quite clear that there was no legal issue, and that the whole reason they’ve changed their minds is because of my post last night. They asked me to eat steak with them, because that’s traditionally what they do after a handshake. I felt pressured to go along with it, even though I’m vegetarian, but they don’t see it that way. I’m an adult, and I made a decision, and I could have declined. Except I did try to decline, and they kept pushing and pushing. Still, they don’t want to work with me anymore, because I made them look bad. I pointed out that I never mentioned them by name, but they volleyed that I eventually would have, when I started to promote them, and that’s a good point. I must say, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s probably for the best that we don’t associate with each other, whoever they were—I’ll never tell. On the other hand, I ate meat for no reason now, destroying my five year streak, and making me feel even worse about myself. If I could go back in time, I would have politely rejected their initial proposal, and then just moved on with my life. I’m gaining not only new readers, but also new subscribers. I have a good job in addition to this side hustle. I really don’t think anything else on top of that.

I still feel pretty crappy about the situation, so I decided I needed to do something about it. A long, long time ago, in a universe far, far away, I used to volunteer all the time. It came so naturally to me that I barely thought about it. That was one good thing about the scouts, because if not for them, or for church, I might not have done any, because, well...I wasn’t thinking about it. I didn’t have to go to the opportunities. They always came to me. Despite the fact that I’m now required by law to participate in community service, it’s not that easy. The court isn’t going to send me a list of places where I can volunteer, and they’re certainly not going to coordinate it for me. I have to reach out to the organizations myself, and have them approved by my parole officer, Leonard. That’s mostly a formality, because the only reason he would reject a particular proposal is if I’m being asked to do dumb, pointless, or unhelpful work. Good, non-scammy organizations who legitimately need help should be fair game. I forgot to say anything to Leonard beforehand, because I wasn’t initially planning on starting my service so soon, but I called him after, and the eight hours I earned will still count just fine. Homes for Humankind is presently building a tiny home community not too far from me on the Missouri side. It’s for people of low or no income, who need a place to live, but don’t need their homes to be lavish and expensive. I spent a half day cutting wood, and drilling screws. Most of the other dozen or so volunteers were highly experienced with this standardized model, so they went fast, and had a shorthand with each other. They were wary of me, but I have my own experience with this sort of thing, so I kept up. We still got the whole unfurnished product done in a day. I’ll help build another next week.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Microstory 2154: It Can’t Be Undone

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I’m not having a good day. The meeting with the people went fine. We struck a deal, and I’ll start to promote their products and services in future installments. These won’t be non sequiturs, though. They’ll provide me with samples, so I can mention them more casually and naturally during my regular updates. You won’t ever hear me just randomly doing ads only for them. I’ll still have normal things to say about how my life is going, but also what I’m using. I’ll also be incorporating their own banner advertising system, as opposed to the one that’s built into the blogging service. Everything still has to go through their legal department, and I’ve been advised to find a lawyer of my own, but once I finish signing the paperwork, we’ll start. It was after the meeting was over that things started to become not so great. As you know, I’m vegetarian, and I’ve been this way for years. It’s something that I wanted to do for a long time before I found the opportunity to make the leap. I never liked the idea of killing to survive, but fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, and I am not a good cook. Once I started living in Havenverse with Cricket and Claire, though, that all stopped being a problem, so I was able to adopt my desired diet. That all changed this evening. My new business partners wanted to celebrate the deal with a meal, like you do. Unfortunately, they have a more specific idea of what that entails. To avoid being rude, I let them order a steak for me, and I ate it. It was the first meat I had eaten in years, and I did not feel good about it. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. It can be my worst character flaw, but it has kept me completely away from drugs and alcohol, so I’ve never tried to change. I don’t want to.

I once believed that I wasn’t very susceptible to peer pressure, but now I think that that had more to do with the fact that I didn’t have peers. No one outside of my family ever cared much what I did or didn’t do with my life. So I reluctantly agreed to the steak, and I had to hold back tears as I was chewing. When it was over, and we officially said our goodbyes, I went back to my apartment, and threw up again. A part of it was because it was too much, and a part of it was stress and guilt, but another part of me believed that I could undo it by not letting my body process the meat all the way. Of course, it doesn’t work like that, and anyway, one point is to lower my carbon impact, and the damage has already been done. I’m just going to have to figure out a way through this. I’ve said this before, and it’s always been about my health and weight, but this time, it’s for the animals: my diet starts now. From tomorrow onwards, I will never eat meat again, whether anyone asks me to or not. They’ll have to force me if they want it to happen. I’m just gonna go to bed for now, and try to put it in the past. As I said, it can’t be undone.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Microstory 2153: New Future Business Partners

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My new future business partners have come into town. They decided to fly in a day early to see the city. They’ve never been here before, so I toured them around. I did my best with it anyway, it’s not like I’m some kind of an expert. Not only am I from an alternate version of Kansas City, but I’m just not interested in that sort of thing. Still, I did a little bit of research, and found a local company that specializes in itineraries for tourists. We’re going to have our meeting tomorrow, so this was just something fun before all that. We ended up spending so much time together that we had lunch in the early afternoon, and dinner tonight. That’s why this is posting so late. We stopped for ice cream in between meals, so I’m probably not going to feel great for the next few days. I’m not lactose intolerant, I just tend to go overboard. I’ve never done anything like this before, with people that I’m not related to, I mean. Anytime I’ve traveled, I’ve gone with family, because I never had any friends. It was surreal, socializing with others, but I got through it, and I’m glad that I did. I won’t bore you with the details, or regale you with the juicy ones that we talked about over the meals, because it’s none of your business. I’m sure that I’ll have more that I’ll want to say after our meeting tomorrow, but I’m equally sure that I won’t actually be able to say any of that either. Perhaps in a few months, it will be declassified. Anyway, I’m super tired, so I gotta get to bed. I still have to work in the morning, and am only taking a couple hours for lunch to discuss business matters. This new partnership won’t be interfering with my regular job.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Microstory 2152: Stop Stopping Moving

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I’ve gone back to being bored and boring, and that makes me nervous. Every time that happens, I get sick, and then something too crazy happens as a result of that. I’ve sort of exhausted every kind of infection that you can get, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get another one of the same type as before. To shake things up, when I had some free time, I returned to the nursery where I used to work to see my old friends and boss. It was a little awkward, because I didn’t leave in the best way. It wasn’t combative, like what sometimes happens with former employees, but it was really weird. To make things less uncomfortable today, I bought a few pots, and some seeds. I mostly chose daisies, since that’s my dog’s name, so it’s fitting. It’s not like I can’t do with a little bit more color in my apartment. I have a history of having very sparse dwellings. I don’t put up photos or paintings. I was born in 1987, so everything I ever cared about was in the cloud by the time I moved out of my parents’ house. If I wanted to look at a picture of someone I cared about, I could just take out my phone. It never seemed better to be able to see such things along the hallways. Walls are just there to hold up the ceiling, and I don’t see blank walls as problematic. All of those pictures are lost to me now, and no matter what I do, I will never get them back. I’m thinking about giving a description of my dogs, Sophie (who is no longer with us) and Daisy, so I can have drawings of them, though they may not be very good, because I have a notoriously bad memory. I am barely confident that the artist could even get close, and I’m not at all confident that we could figure out what my human family looked like. Still, it’s not a bad idea. It would certainly give me something to do with my days besides working, writing, talking about my feelings with my therapist, updating my parole officer on nothing, and sitting in jail. I should make a list...a list of things I can do, which may not necessarily improve my life, but perhaps just make it different. I’m a shark, so I should stop stopping moving.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Microstory 2151: But Not Covertly

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Nothing has officially changed since we last spoke. I spoke with my boss, and my boss’ boss, and my boss’ boss’s boss. I may be limiting my hours in the future, but only if I end up doing other things with my website. If I don’t, then there would be little reason to leave. I’m not struggling to keep up with my site schedule right now. I’m kind of embarrassed, but as we talked it out, we realized that the only reason my blog has been at all successful is because I do other things with my life besides writing the blog. If that’s all I do, then I’ll have nothing to write about. Sure, I’m still intermittently going to jail, but that will end eventually, and I already have to be careful with my details. Speaking of which, that business opportunity I’ve been teasing is moving forward. We have a meeting later this week. Normally, a new partner would come to them, but I can’t leave the area, so they’re flying in to my location. I told you about those offices in this apartment complex, so I think I’ll be able to actually make use of that amenity. It won’t be until Thursday, though, so everything else is going to be about normal until then. Jail was normal too. People are getting used to me, so I’m no longer the center of attention, which is nice. I was worried that that would never happen. People are still asking questions, and sometimes making snide remarks—often literally behind my back, but not covertly—but everyone experiences some of that. It’s hard to lay low in a place like that, because it’s ironically easy to notice anyone trying. Boy, this installment wasn’t very interesting, was it? I sure hope I don’t lose readers for this. I’m sure I will. That’s okay, I’m not one of those content creators who is going to beg you to “like and subscribe”. Do what you want, I’ll just be here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 27, 2448

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Once Ramses was safe and sound in the Garden Dimension with the rest of the team, the Horticulturalists decided that it was time to kick everyone out. Even though the Memory Magnolia had apparently made its own decision about sending Marie to rescue their last remaining member, she was the one who partook in the fruit in the first place. She made that decision, and these were the consequences of it. Everyone else was being kicked out just for being associated with her, and they had no problem with this, because they needed to stay together, and as pleasant as the garden was, it was time to get back to work. Before they left, they warned the Horticulturalists that Bronach Oaksent and the Exin Empire were seemingly trying to get into the garden themselves. Nothing else made sense to explain why Ramses blowing a hole through the hull of Ex-42 would send them down the river towards the Magnolia conflux. If they wanted to protect their specimens from those who would truly harm it, they needed to seriously rethink their defensive strategies.
The Team was now back on Earth. They asked to be returned to the Vellani Ambassador, which was parked and invisible in the Goldilocks Corridor, but no one in the garden was capable of accommodating them. Whatever was indeed responsible for this detour in the first place was located at that end of it. They could try to investigate it themselves, whether the Horticulturalists wanted them to or not, but first, they had to figure out how to get back there. Their first thought was to seek help from Team Keshida on the Jameela Jamil, which could get them to that region of space in under five hours, but they didn’t respond directly. A voicemail message from an apparent quantum autoresponder informed Leona that the JJ was on a mission in the Miridir Galaxy, which was where Dardius was located. Quantum communication allowed FTL signals to reach vast distances, but the technology still had its limits. If they were in Andromeda XXI, they were too far away to talk to in realtime, and once they did receive the message, it would take them a month to return to help, assuming they weren’t too busy there to return at all. They were surely that far away for good reason.
Leona popped her lips several times. “Welp, back to the Nexus?”
“Yeah, the Nexus seems like the right call,” Mateo agreed.
Everyone else seemed amenable, so they teleported to the Pacific Ocean Nexus, directly inside the building, which was still neutrally buoyant just under the surface. “Venus Opsocor, are you there?”
No one responded.
“Venus, can you hear me?” Leona reiterated.
 Still no response.
“You two on the outs?” Ramses asked.
“I’m sure she’s a very busy superintelligent god,” Leona presumed. She walked up the steps, and tried to enter the control room, but the door was locked. She tried to just teleport to the other side of it, but it didn’t work either. Venus was icing her out. She must have wanted her to stay here for some reason. She let out a frustrated sigh, and banged on the door before turning around to go back down the stairs.
A man opened it from the control room, bleary eyed, and trying to block the lights from hitting him. “Can I help you? It’s a little early.”
“Do you live here?” Leona questioned.
“Yeah,” he answered, like he had every right. He blinked a lot, and looked around. “Wait, do I? Where the hell am I? Why am I inside?” He jerked his head around to look back into the control room. “Where is my apartment? Who are you people? What did you do to me!”
“Please try to relax, sir. We did nothing to you. We did not expect to find you here. What is the last thing you remember?”
“Uh, I fell asleep on the couch. My couch, in my home. Now I’m suddenly here. I could have sworn that when I heard you banging, I woke up on my couch too. It was here a second ago. Could someone please tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m going to ask you a few questions, sir, and they may sound weird, but trust me, they’re important. Just answer them honestly. We are not going to harm you, or use anything against you. We’re here to help. What year is it?”
“It’s 2024, dumbass.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t assume that you’re the bad guy here. I’ve seen this move a million times. A group of people wake up in a cube, or on an island, or a weird building in the woods with a giant window-slash-mirror, where monsters watch you for fun. Or it’s a torture chamber, or a shower stall, or a spaceship, or a lobby in heaven—”
“Sir,” Leona had to repeat yet again. “You’re talking about the You Wake Up in a Room trope. I don’t think that’s really what’s happening. We came here on purpose, we just didn’t expect to find anyone else, and there is a way out. Let’s keep going. We know the year. Where is your apartment? What city?”
“Silver Shade. Silver Shade, Kansas.”
Leona nodded. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s in Mineral County,” the man added.
There was no such place as Mineral County as far as she knew. “I should have asked this before, what’s your name, friend?”
“Baylor. Baylor Alexanderson.”
Leona proceeded to introduce herself, and the rest of the team.
“Those are some interesting names you got there,” Baylor mused. “Do you have any more questions for me, or are we gonna be able to get out of here?”
Leona consulted her watch, even though she had already looked at it as soon as they left the Garden Dimension. “I have some bad news, Baylor, it’s not 2024. It’s 2448, and given the fact that you’re from a city and county that doesn’t exist here, I can only assume that you’re in the wrong world. Given your description of answering what you thought to be your own door, my guess is that you went through the Westfall, though it’s not supposed to take you somewhere this altered. You’re supposed to think that you’re still on the same world. At least that’s how it was explained to me.”
Baylor stared at her for a moment. “What the shit are you goin’ on about?”
“I know it’s disorienting, but I’m still going to do all I can to help you, if Venus would just kindly respond to me!” she increased the volume of her voice, as she looked up towards the Nexus drum. She could never quite tell where Venus’ voice was ever coming from, but it always sounded like it was from above. “Hello?”
“Wait, is this one of those—wadya call it—Voldisil things?” Baylor asked. “Are you a fabled Voldisil?”
“I’ve never heard of that either,” Leona admitted.
“I don’t believe in ‘em,” Baylor explained. “They say that this kid out east can heal people, but I don’t put stock into such rumors. I’m sure it’s all a big hoax. I mean, he charges rich people a ton of money, and then he gives his poor patients some of that money, in addition to healing them? Does that sound right to you?”
“I don’t know, sir, that’s not my world, as I said.”
“Well, if I’ve been sent through the dimensional planes, or whatever, how do I get back? Tell me what to do.”
“You could...try to...close the door?” Leona suggested. She didn’t know how it worked, or whether it could ever be undone.
“Is that a question?”
“I’m not an expert.”
Baylor sighed, tipped an imaginary hat at her, and then closed the door.
She tried to open it again right  away, and was able to this time. Baylor was nowhere to be seen, and the lights inside the control room were starting to come on. “Guys, I think it worked. Or it sent him somewhere totally different.”
I’m here, Leona,” Venus’ voice answered.
“Venus, how long ago did I ask for you?”
It has currently been eight point seven seconds.
“L-O-L.” Mateo laughed at the coincidence.
“It’s been longer than that for me,” Leona told her. “We’ve been interacting with a man we believe to have come through Westfall.”
I did not register his appearance, but that’s the one thing that could have interfered with my temporal association, and my response,” Venus said.
“That’s okay, I think he’s back home. We were wondering if you could do the same for us. We left our ship in the Goldilocks Corridor, around a planet called Ex-659. Have you heard of that? It’s about 16,000 light years away.”
I never have,” Venus answered.
“There may or may not be a working Nexus on a planet called Ex-371. You and I spoke while I was there sixteen years ago.”
I have no recollection of that. Either my memory was purged, or it has not happened to me yet.”
“Okay.” Leona thought about it. “Can you take us to the Dardius Nexus? I have the term sequence.”
I’m afraid that the Dardius Nexus is presently offline at this point in history.
“That’s disturbing.” Leona took a deep breath, and centered herself. “Then we have one last option. Could you please send us to the Nucleus?”
“Captain, that’s not safe,” Marie warned.
“It’s the only place I know that can travel such distances, unless you can put us in touch with one of the Al-Amins?”
Marie put her tail between her legs.
“Venus?” Leona went on.
I have heard of that,” Venus said. “I can send you there, but there is no Nexus there in 2448, so you will not necessarily be in control of where you go next.
“We rarely are,” Leona responded.
Step into the cavity, please.
“We appreciate your support,” Leona said genuinely as she was taking up the rear.
The light rained down from above, and dispatched them to purported the center of the universe. They did not exit to another Nexus, as Venus had explained. They were in the same expansive room that Marie had come to while she was searching for Angela, which they both confirmed. It was mostly empty now. A man started to jog over when he noticed them, but then he suddenly stopped, and continued more slowly. “You came here on purpose,” he said to them, almost accusatorily.
“Yes, it’s only a pit stop,” Leona answered. “We’re trying to get to the Goldilocks Corridor.”
“I’m afraid we don’t take requests here,” he tried to explain. “My name is Intake Coordinator Pontus Flagger. Our only job here is to keep you healthy, fed, and comfortable, until the universe decides where to put you.”
“The universe doesn’t decide anything,” Leona argued. “There must be someone in charge, even if it’s an intelligence beyond our comprehension.”
“Like I said, the universe,” Pontus repeated, as if they were talking about the exact same thing.
Leona sighed. “Have you recorded any patterns? What kind of people come here, where they go, where they’re standing when it happens; that sort of thing.”
“No pattern detected,” Pontus said apologetically. “We’ve been looking for one.”
“How long have you been measuring?” Leona asked.
He acted like that was an impossible question to answer.
“Right. Time.” She looked over at her crew, who were waiting patiently for her guidance. “So, you got a suite for us, or something?”
“Right this way, sir.” Pontus spun around, and began to walk away.
“That won’t be necessary,” came an electronic voice behind all of them. His identity was being masked by an actual mask, as well as a sound distorter. He wasn’t alone either. Thousands of black-clothed stormtrooper types were standing behind him, all pointing their space rifles at the crew. They looked exactly the same, in the same positions, as if there was only one of them, and he had copy-pasted himself over and over again. Maybe that was the truth.
“Funny, I didn’t hear you come in,” Leona said.
“Um, they didn’t,” Pontus replied. “We have alarms for mass arrivals.”
Leona nodded, and lifted a hand. She sent a ripple of light towards the crowd, using her own holo-powers to disrupt and fade the image of the holographic army.
“Shit,” the only enemy there said. He reached over to his wrist, and switched off the ruse. Leona wasn’t quite right. There were actually still two of them, rather than only the one. “I need to regain the higher ground.” He shot Leona right in the chest.
The thing about these special suits being bulletproof was that they prevented most projectiles and energy blasts from piercing the layers. They couldn’t protect the wearer from everything, but they were extremely advanced, and Ramses had already bolstered their strength with a little bit of tinkering. And anyway, Leona fell to her back, and slid across the floor, because the concussive force was still strong, and she wasn’t magnetizing her boots at the time, not that that would have been the safer option.
“You are all now conscripted into the Resonant Parallel Coalition, whether you like it or not,” the shooter demanded in his weird little voice.
Leona stood back up, almost entirely unhurt, and arched her back to get the kinks out. She looked back with the confidence befitting a captain of her calibre. “Oh, no thank you.”