Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 2, 2454

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
Ramses’ new bulk portal detection device was not ready by the time the team’s day ran out. He was able to program his AI to do some things during their interim year, but there was still some work left when they returned in 2454. While he was focused on that, the Primus asked Leona to exercise her diplomacy muscles for them.
“I don’t have any significant diplomacy experience,” Leona tried to explain.
“Is that not what your ship is for? It’s called the Ambassador,” Primus Mihajlović pointed out.
“That was how it was designed,” Leona went on, “and that’s how it was used recently, but my team and I aren’t on it because that’s our job. We just sort of lucked into possession of it. Whoever you’ve been using for your diplomacy with the Ochivari prisoners of war are better equipped than I.”
“We would be grateful,” Kineret began, “if you would at least try. We’re getting nowhere with the prisoners. We’ve passed laws in recent years that forbid us from detaining extraterrestrial POWs for longer than four months. We actually watched a lot of Ochivari die after we placed them in a communal area of the facility to let them attempt to return home on their own. Fortunately, Carlin has been here to prevent the bloodshed, but we’re running out of time. We’ve not been able to capture anyone recently, so this could be our last chance to get answers for  a while.”
Leona nodded respectfully. “I’ll have Angela or Marie see what they can do.” She turned around to look for the Walton sisters when she saw her husband. “What is it?”
“Nothing, I’m just standing here,” he replied.
“I know all your faces, Matt. You’re yearning for something. Do you think you should run this interrogation instead?”
“Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with that. We’ll talk later, in private.”
“If there’s something I need to know...” the Primus said.
“It really has nothing to do with it,” he assured her. “It’s personal. My mind is distracted. Go do your thing,” he said to Leona. “I’ll see ya tonight.”
They shared a couple pecks on the cheek, then went their separate ways. Leona and Angela teleported a few thousand kilometers away to a particularly cold region of the planet, which they would have referred to as the Northwest Territories. There was no name for it here. It was just the Subarctic North. This was where all of the Ochivari prisoners were being held, as far from civilization as possible, to protect the humans from them. They also discovered that Ochivari didn’t like the cold. They didn’t wither and die from it like a movie monster, but they were very uncomfortable anywhere outside of their climate controlled cells, so there was less danger of them trying to escape. Of course, they had to keep each prisoner separately, or they would be able to transport each other to a different universe. This would always result in some fraction of the travelers dying, but this was a risk that they were used to taking, so the humans had to take measures to stop it. Unless the time limit was reached. They had passed similar laws when it was just themselves on this Earth over the centuries, and as angry as they were about the alien invasion, the populace felt obligated to maintain some sense of their own integrity, and to treat their prisoners of war with care and dignity. The Ochivari still had rights, even if they would not extend the same courtesy to the humans.
Primus Mihajlović, who asked the team to call her Naraschone in person, but her title in the company of others, called ahead to let the prison know that two consultants would be arriving to speak with the prisoners. The guards let them in, and directed them to the underground cells. This place was powered by a thermonuclear generator, so it was self-sustainable, and mostly cut off from the rest of the world, for security purposes. The people who worked here lived in a nearby once-abandoned, but now revitalized, formerly indigenous village. For the most part, the only travel that occurred to this location was to drop off new prisoners, or to fly away from having just dropped off prisoners. They even grew their own food in aquaponic towers, further cementing themselves as a stable isolate. So they were very excited to see the new faces. Some of them were a little too excited, but Angela and Leona didn’t let it bother them, because it was understandable given their circumstances.
“I’ll just be right outside,” the guard said, closing the door behind them.
A polycarbonate window was installed in the middle of the room. On the other side was an Ochivar who was already sitting at his table up against the window, ready to talk. He was reportedly just as closed off about their motivations, and other details regarding their culture, but he was less nasty to the humans than his compatriots were. “Who the hell are you?”
“You don’t already know who we are?” Leona asked, pulling Angela’s seat out, and then sitting down next to her.
“No. Should I?”
They were famous in some circles, but not his, unless he was just playing it close to the vest. “We are not from this world. We hail from Salmonverse.”
Ochivari looked different, so their microexpressions would be hard to read without more exposure, yet it was apparent that he recognized the name. He tried not to let this on. “Okay.”
Angela met Leona’s eyes, and nodded. She would begin to lead the conversation. “What’s your name?”
“Nilstedd,” he answered courteously.
“What was the name of the man you killed when crossing over into this world?”
He hesitated with this one, likely surprised that she would show interest in such information. “Kuhsakego.”
“Were you two close?”
He hesitated here too, but less so, wanting to maintain what little power he had left here. “We trained up together. We always knew that we would be wing-locked one day. They discouraged us from becoming friendly for this reason.”
“Were you in love?” Angela asked.
“It wasn’t like that,” Nilstedd answered.
She believed him. “But you did care for him, and you regret his passing.”
“It is our way.” He averted his gaze, suggesting that he did not agree with his own statement. “It is the only way.”
That wasn’t true, but Angela wasn’t there yet. “We’ve noticed something. Well, others have noticed it, and relayed it to us. We have not met enough Ochivari to have any impression in this regard, but it’s become known that you are all men. Are you a single sex species?”
“Of course not. Our mating rituals are more complex than you could ever understand.”
“Where are all the women?”
He scoffed.
“They must be weak,” Angela said dismissively, trying to get a rise out of him.
“They are not weak. They are just too important!” he argued.
“So it’s just about propagating the species,” Angela guessed. “They stay out of the fight, so they can make more fighters.”
“I shall say nothing more of it.” He turned away even more.
“Have you heard of the Krekel?” she asked him.
He appeared determined to stop revealing information to them, but he couldn’t help but react to this. He spit on the far end of his table, as close to Angela’s as he could without phase-shifting it through the barrier.
“They’re like the Tok’ra, who are technically also Goa’uld, but not evil. That’s all they are; those who made different choices.” She shrugged. “You’re Krekel.”
“No, I am not.”
“You can be,” she reasoned. “You can escape your cell whenever you want. Krekel can travel alone.”
Nilstedd crossed his arms defiantly. “They’re lying.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you ever see them do it?” he questioned.
“My father was a slaveowner,” Angela suddenly said. “I grew up with massive trust issues. I had to work really hard to get over them. The Krekel told me that they can wingsing their way through portals. It’s not a trick, it’s not a lie. It’s true. I’ve been sent here to tease information from you, but if you escaped right here, right now, I wouldn’t stop you. I encourage it.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Music. Music is a language of love. For you to do what you do, and survive, you have to develop contempt from your partner, not because of its inherent value, but because of what you were saying. To lose someone you love; for him to die by your hands—or wings, as it were—would be a burden that you could not bear if you let yourself care about him. So you suppress all love, to protect yourself from disappointment, loss, and loneliness. Music brings us together. The way the Krekel I met described it, you can open a portal by focusing your energy on breaking free from the world that you’re on, while they open one by focusing on where they want to go. They seek connection, while you seek escape. That’s why it kills you.”
“I would sure like to read the scientific paper where you’re getting all this brilliant insight,” he volleyed.
She smiled. “I can’t. I briefly looked over the laws relevant to this war. The locals aren’t allowed to study how you operate. It’s illegal, because it’s unethical. They can’t encourage you to kill each other. So no, I don’t know that much about how your wing battle thing works, but I know that it’s not pleasant. If it were, Kuhsakego would be in the cell next to you.”
“What are you trying to do here,” Nilstedd demanded to know, “get me to turn on my own people?”
“No,” Angela answered sincerely. “I’m just trying to get you to tell me why you’re here at all. What’s so special about this world? It’s just another Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to sterilize everyone, but why haven’t you yet? Why are you fighting in the first place?”
He appeared to laugh. “Look around, human. Do you know what the global temperature is? Do you see how much pollution there is in the air? The oceans? Do you know how many unevolved species have gone extinct? Does it have a stable ozone layer? Are these people barreling down a path towards their own self-destruction?”
“No,” Leona answered in Angela’s stead. “They’re fine. The environment is fine. So why are you here?”
Nilstedd was watching Angela during Leona’s response, but he turned his head now. “We’re not here to end the human race in this universe. We’re here to train.”
“To train for what?”
“For you,” he answered simply.
“Me specifically, errr...?”
“People like you, who travel the bulk, causing trouble for us. You can’t combat sterilization in kind. You fight us with guns, and other weapons. We need to know how to fight back, to protect our interests. So we found a universe that’s just advanced enough to give us a real challenge while being primitive enough to not absolutely decimate our forces.”
“These are field tests?” Leona questioned, horrified. “You don’t actually have anything against these people? By your own definition, they’re innocent, and you’re killing them anyway?”
He shrugged. “Orders are orders. Some were sent in ships, others were sent to test out various infiltration and subterfuge techniques. That’s why some of the people we dispatched are human.”
Leona had to actively hold Angela in place when she stood up to teleport away. “No. We can’t tell anyone what he just said.”
“Why not?”
“Come with me,” Leona ordered. She took Angela by the hand, and transported them both to the Gobi Desert.
“They have a right to know that some of the people they’re looking for will look human, and not Ochivari,” Angela argued.
“The right people have a right to know, but we have to be careful about this. Think about it, Ange. Right now, their enemy is obvious; unmistakable. If they have to be on the lookout for enemies who look just like them, they’ll find ‘em, whether they’re real or not. Neighbors will turn on neighbors. People will become suspicious of their children’s teachers. Constituents will lose trust in their leadership, and the entire civilization will crumble to dust. In my day, some conspiracy theorists believed that the government was run by lizard people. They once tried to attack a military base, convinced that aliens were being housed there. Imagine how bad it would get if this kind of stuff were true!”
Angela sighed. “You’re right. This situation requires finesse and tact. I don’t know if we’re up for the job. It puts us in an awkward situation too. We’re invaders, from another universe. What makes our team different? Why should they trust us?”
“There’s another option, but it will be neither safe nor easy. I got the idea just as Olimpia was rescuing us from the kasma. Perhaps the only way to protect this Earth is to seal it up tight. Now more than ever, we would have to return to where we came from.” If the answer was in Salmonverse or Fort Underhill, then they needed to get back to find it, not only because that was their home. Their enemy would want something in return—probably their deaths—but there was no reason to fret over it now. Priorities.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Expelled: Explicated (Part II)

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
At first, the three of them did nothing. They stopped working, and froze, not sure whether someone really was outside of the tent, or if they were hallucinating. This planet was uninhabitable to humans, but that might not be true of any native species. No, that shouldn’t matter. It wasn’t just that the composition of the air was incompatible to human lungs. The very thin atmosphere was almost exclusively composed of carbon dioxide. It wasn’t completely impossible for life to evolve on such a world, though it wasn’t probable. There was another knock. Even if aliens did evolve, there was something very human about the practice of knocking on a door to gain someone’s attention, which might not translate very well to an alien race. An evolved alien on a carbon dioxide world was even less likely at any rate.
The tent began to bulge inward. “Hello,” came a voice through the fabric. He sounded very curious, as if he wasn’t sure whether anyone was in here.
“How is he talking?” Airlock Karen questioned, more fearful than the others. Rita was a trained professional, and Elder knew who was out there.
“Conduction,” Elder explained vaguely. “Can you hear us?” he cried out.
“Oh, yes.” The blackmailer was still being creepily cheerful as if all this was very reasonable and to be expected.
“You got what you wanted...” Elder said, pausing for a moment. “We’re here. What do you want?”
“I want you,” the blackmailer replied.
“You want me for what?”
“Haha, sorry. I lifted my helmet from the tent, forgetting that you can’t hear me without it. I want do whatever you must to survive. I’ll be doing the same a few hundred meters away. Once you adapt well enough to travel from your tent, come find me. We won’t speak again until then.”
“This is a game to you?” Rita figured.
“More like a test, Lieutenant. I need to know what you’re made of. How many of you will last? Which ones? I’m building something here. Well not here, and not now, but I will, or rather, I will have. You just have to decide how badly you want to be a part of that. Come talk to me when you know, and when you can.”
“What are the odds?” Elder asked him. “What are the odds that we pass your test, and make it all the way to your settlement?”
He laughed again, and waited to respond. “A hundred percent.” They could see the bulge from his helmet disappear as he began to walk away.
“Who the hell was that?” Karen asked.
“I still don’t know, but I intend to find out.” Elder looked at the ladies. “But not right now. Our priorities haven’t changed. Food and water. If you’ve ever cared about anything else in your life, pretend that they don’t exist. From now on, the only things that matter are the four majors: air, shelter, water, and food, in that order.”
They went on with their business. Airlock Karen—who requested to be called Debra instead—even pitched in, helping to assemble the dayfruit growers to double their productivity. Meanwhile, Elder programmed the genetic makeup of the fruit, optimizing for geoponics rather than hydroponics. The kit that he had curated wouldn’t have enough water for all three of them if they had to use too much of it for food production. There was another option that he was considering. The blackmailer obviously had his own plan for survival, and was probably sitting pretty in another dimension, or something. He knew that this was all going to happen, and wanted it to, so he was fully prepared. There was enough juice for Elder to teleport to the blackmailer’s location, but he needed to know exactly where that was, and what he was getting into. If there was any form of teleportation resistance technology, it could spell Elder’s death. So maybe there was a fifth priority in addition to the major four: information.
There would be a month’s worth of meal bars for one person, but even if there was enough for everyone, they wanted to save them for an emergency. A worse emergency, that was. They planned on rationing over the course of the next several days, but stop after that to focus on the dayfruit. They would only return to the bars if something went wrong, and they had no choice. They had to be so careful with every move they made. One little mistake could lead to their doom, and they wouldn’t even necessarily see it coming. Spilling a cup of water could be devastating, so everything sensitive like that would be going in the collapsible sink to protect it from their shuffling around. It may sound like a small gesture, but carelessness was a consequence of hunger, thirst, and isolation. They had to be extra afraid of mistakes.
Once the four majors were set or in motion, Elder was able to focus on that fifth priority. He had recorded the conversation with his blackmailer, and commanded his tablet to find a match from the Extremus manifest. Since the comparative sample was muffled through the tent, the AI came up with a couple dozen possible matches. But Elder had heard the man’s voice during their first and only face-to-face meeting in his lab. He would recognize it if he concentrated. He stuck the earbuds in, and prepared to narrow down the list when he noticed Debra saying something. He couldn’t hear a single thing with these things in, so he had to take them out again right away. “Sorry, what?”
“Do we get to listen to your music too, or not?” she repeated.
“It’s not music,” Elder explained.
“What is it?” Rita asked.
He didn’t want to tell them. “It’s an essay from an Earthan science journal about chromatin remodeling and epigenomic reprogramming for enhanced nutritional yield in solanum mirabilis with an emphasis on the optimization of the upregulation of nutrient preservation for extended unrefrigerated life terms in suboptimal conditions, vis-à-vis our current conditions in a hostile environment with little to no consumable resource replenishment options. Are you interested?”
They stared at him until Rita said, “oh. I already read that. It’s pretty good, albeit a bit rudimentary,” she joked.
Elder smirked, and took out his handheld device. He swiped it over to guest mode, and tossed it to them. “All the best music is on there, but only from the late 21st century, and earlier. I prefer the classics.” The masses appeased, he put his buds back in, and started to focus on the voice samples. He was a bit distracted when he noticed that the girls chose to watch something instead of listening, projecting the film on the wall. It was The Martian, of all movies. Their eyes did not betray an acknowledgement of the irony. Or maybe they were just studying it for good ideas.
Fifteen minutes later, Matt Damon was in the middle of recording his first message while stranded alone on Mars. Elder was pretty sure that he found the right voice from the eleventh sample, but he needed to listen to the others to eliminate them. “Bronach Oaksent,” he couldn’t help but say out loud after listening to the sample for the fourth time, as well as one more listen of the very similar eighteenth sample.”
“Is that a band, errr...?” Debra asked him.
The cat was out of the bag now, Elder had to come clean. “That’s who did this to us. That’s who’s outside the tent.”
“You’re telling me that’s the name of a human being?” Debra pressed.
“Apparently, so.” Elder was still chilled from the voice sample itself, the words of which reiterated his belief that he had found the right suspect. I don’t care what happens to this ship in the end. Your definition of extreme is limited to space, when you should be more motivated by time. That’s where all the real power lies. Bronach wanted Elder to build that time machine, so he could go back and do something nefarious with it. Elder’s initial thought was to kill himself to prevent that from being possible, but in many years, he had come across multiple chances to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and he had never made that choice before. That was one reason he was in this mess in the first place.
“Who is he?” Rita asked. “I don’t recognize the name.”
Elder looked back down at the profile he had pulled up. “He’s no one. No family, no community ties, no job, low contribution score.”
“Maybe he altered his own records,” Debra offered. “He’s smart enough.”
“How would you know how smart he is?” Rita asked her.
“Well, he pulled this off, didn’t he?”
Elder regarded her with mild disgust, split evenly between Debra herself, and Bronach. “No higher education. He was homeschooled.”
Rita flinched. “Oh.”
“Oh? Oh, what?”
Now she was the one with a secret that she wanted to keep. But there were four people in the entire world. If she couldn’t tell them, she couldn’t tell anyone. “His records were probably erased, but not by him. The homeschool label is an old spycraft tactic. It’s to prevent anyone from looking deeper into someone’s past. When you’re homeschooled, there are no records, so snoopers won’t be surprised when they don’t find anything.”
“He’s a spy?” Debra asked.
“Not necessarily,” Rita answered. “Some people actually are indeed homeschooled. But given our present circumstances, it’s a safe bet that he’s been highly trained in espionage and manipulation techniques.”
“He talks in probabilities,” Elder revealed. “This suggests that he’s highly calculating.”
“So, I’m right,” Debra figured. “He’s smart.”
“You were right,” Elder admitted, not upset about validating her, but worried about what she was right about. What was Bronach planning, and what did these two have to do with it? A time machine on its own wasn’t too terribly dangerous all the way out here. They were over a thousand light years from the stellar neighborhood, which would limit his ability to alter the past. He would need other technologies, like a reframe engine, or maybe just stasis. If he wanted to change history, coming all the way out here was a hard way to go about it. There was a reason that he got on Extremus, and a reason that he got off when he did. None of this was random, and they couldn’t trust their intuitions. This profile didn’t give them enough information about who they were dealing with. Maybe Elder really should kill himself. But where would that leave Rita and Debra?
Rita shut the movie off, seemingly no longer in the mood. She tapped on the device until some classical music started to play for them all to hear. She carefully lowered the volume. “The carbon scrubber is functioning optimally, right?
“It is,” Elder replied.
“Air, check. The tent is sealed up properly, no leaks?”
“No leaks.”
“Shelter,” Debra jumped in.
“The toilet’s ready to go,” Rita went on.
“Yes. Water. Gross water.”
“Lastly, the dayfruit seeds are growing.”
“Slowly, yes,” Elder confirmed.
“Food,” they chanted roughly simultaneously.
“We’ve had a hard day. Turn your screen off. Let’s just go to sleep.”
“We’ve not even talked about that,” Elder said, realizing now that the lower priority issues were still issues. “The sleeping bag only fits one person. I mean, I guess two people could fit if they were willing to snuggle...”
Rita smiled. “I’m a Lieutenant, remember? I can sleep anywhere, anyhow. You too share the bag; sleep back to back, I would recommend. I’ll be fine.”
“I sleep in the buff,” Debra divulged. “I just don’t feel comfortable any other way.”
“Then use the clothes that you’re not wearing as a pillow,” Elder suggested. We’ll use the actual pillow as a barrier between us.”
“Okay.” She was a difficult person, but not without the capacity for humility. Even Karens had people who loved them, and those people weren’t insane.
“We should be conserving power anyway, so sleep is a good idea, and it’s healthier to do it when it’s cooler.” He reached over to the microfusion reactor to cycle down the isofeed. A reactor shouldn’t ever be turned off completely, but he could limit the amount of output, including the waste heat, which was their main source of warmth here. The lights dimmed, and Rita turned off the music. “No, as long as you two are fine with it, keep the music on. It’s good for you, and don’t worry about the power.”
“I’m fine with it,” Debra said.
They continued to listen to Clair de Lune as they quietly got ready for bed. Elder removed most of his clothes too, but not everything. He just needed his own shirt and pants for a pillow. Rita crawled over to the other side of the tent to curl up into the fetal position. Debra squirmed a lot, probably because she was used to having all the space of a full-sized bed, but she didn’t complain, so that was nice. He had extra melatonin sleep masks, but he didn’t want to offer her one, and have her be offended. It was time that they started to learn how to live together, because they were going to be stuck with each other for a long time. He made a mental note to offer one to the both of them tomorrow, framing it as if he were remembering that he should have worn one himself. Yeah, that should work. For now, they would all just have to figure it out on their own.
Over the course of the next week, they developed a routine. They had nothing better to do besides continue to survive, so they shared stories from their pasts. Elder didn’t tell them why he was on the run, but he did discuss his life on Earth centuries ago. They were receptive and nonjudgmental. But they were still going a little crazy. They needed to find a way to spend some time apart. The bathroom situation was uncomfortable at best.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Microstory 2180: Secretary is a Dirty Word

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
My neighbor and new assistant has agreed to let me tell you her name, and a little bit about her. I didn’t ask her if I could do this; she volunteered, thinking that it didn’t make much sense for me to keep referring to her by her relationship to me. I try to keep the specifics about other people out of my posts, and not reveal too many details about them, in order to protect their privacy, but I can also see how it may feel impersonal and detached. I hope that no one else is experiencing any such issues. Anyway, Jasmine Soun is 29 years old. She’s from St. Louis, Missouri. After she graduated from St. Louis University, she decided to leave all of her belongings behind, and just start driving. She stayed on the road for four hours, and the only reason she stopped is because she ran out of gas. She had made it to Kansas City by then, but wasn’t too near a gas station. She had to get out, and walk the rest of the way to buy a gas can, and fill it up before making her way back to her car. It was there that she met her future boyfriend when he offered to give her a ride. He also offered her a job at the gas station, and she didn’t have any other prospects, so she accepted it. That’s the kind of person she is, a real go-with-the-flow type. He would later convert her to vegetarianism, which was what made her have to quit her job before too long. She didn’t like selling the types of foods to which she had a moral objection. I can very understand that. Fast-forward about six years, and she’s no longer with that guy, but they keep in touch. She’s had a number of jobs since then, but just before I hired her, she was a secretary for the Vice President of Manufacturing at a computer hardware company that specialized in memory modules, so she has decent experience, which means that it’s not a cronyistic hire. Back in my home universe, secretary is a dirty word, filled with a historical context of misogyny, and an imbalance of power through a gendered dynamic. People in this world apparently never had that problem, so the word doesn’t have the same negative connotations. Sure, it’s not like it’s a coveted position, admired like astronauts, but it’s not shameful either, and it hasn’t been traditionally dominated by women either. No job really has been; I find that interesting. And on that note, we better get back to work. Say goodbye, Jasmine. She says hello.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Microstory 2179: Moving in the Right Direction

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
I’ve received word from human resources that my job descriptions have been approved for posting. I believe that most of them will go out to the job boards starting on Monday. There’s stuff that they have to do, with pasting my verbiage, and adding their own, like the company’s mission, hiring policies, and the location details. I don’t have to worry about any of that stuff myself, but if you’ve ever applied to a job online, you now what I’m talking about. If you’re looking for a chance, or you’re in between jobs right now, I encourage you to apply. We will be seeking an expert for each of the following positions: Behavioral Psychologist, Jail Counselor, Addiction Counselor, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Job Counselor, Logistician, Data Analyst, Computer Expert, Criminal Lawyer, Immigration Lawyer, Social Worker, Cultural Sensitivity Expert, and Community Volunteer. If you think you would be a good fit for these roles, please be on the lookout for the postings next week. We expect high interest. A few jobs are missing from that list, which will be filled in other ways, such as internal recruitment or direct offers. Note that some team members will be working for my employer as contractors to the jail, while others will be working for the county. We will all be on the same team, though, so for the most part, we won’t even notice. It will only affect the backend situation, like payroll, disciplinary action, and time off requests. I’ve mentioned the concept of co-employment before, and it’s a real danger, which is why I won’t technically be the boss of everyone on the team, only the ones who work for my company. For our county staff members, we will collaborate fully with them on a day-to-day basis, however, they will report to the warden instead. I believe that they are currently looking into creating yet another position to oversee those members, so I could end up with a partner of sorts, or maybe a liaison who doesn’t spend much time in the meetings. It’s unclear at this point, but we’re on track to reaching our target start date of August 1. On that day, we want all positions filled, all equipment and supplies in stock, and to be starting to do the actual work that we’ve been hired to do. So again, if you think you belong on the team, apply sooner rather than later, so we can keep things moving in the right direction. Speaking of keeping things moving, I have to get back to work. I’m predicting ten hour work days for the foreseeable future. That’s the thing about a salary job. I don’t ever clock out, and I always take my work home with me. I’m not complaining, though. I once had a job that only gave me a few hours a day. I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of the day, but I couldn’t afford rent.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Microstory 2178: Taboo For People to Share

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
I’ve been working on the job descriptions for my team today, so we can find the right people to apply for them. Human resources will handle the actual search for me, and once a candidate fits their criteria, they’ll pass them on to my desk so I can see if they fit my criteria. I honestly don’t know how it’s going to go, or how many applications I’ll get. When I’ve applied to jobs, it’s been a really frustrating experience. They make you fill out the same information in multiple places, they ask dumb questions that have nothing to do with the position, and worst of all, they don’t get back to you. I actually spoke with someone in HR, and they assured me that they have an auto-rejection subroutine in their system. Everyone who isn’t going to get the job will receive an automatic reply through email about it. It’s the absolute least you can do, right? It’s so easy. I did get a quick update from my alternate self on the other Earth, and right now, he has a job where he processes hundreds of emails per day. So even if a company receives thousands of applications, it should not be that hard to sort them, and shoot off a quick canned response. That’s assuming you don’t make it easy on yourself by sending a single email per day, and blind carbon copy everyone who needs it. And that’s assuming you don’t use more sophisticated methods, like email client scripts, or in our case, a candidate management system with robust automated features. Again, it’s really not that hard. Sorry, it’s just been really annoying in the past, so now that I’m on this side of it, I want to make sure I don’t treat people the way that I’ve been treated. I’ll promise you this too, if your application goes far enough in the process that I’m seeing it, and I choose to not offer you the job, I will take the time to write up a tailored email to you. It won’t be poetry, but it will be sincere, and most importantly, it will exist!

I received some other news today, in the form of my official salary in this new position. My superiors made whispers with the number, but nothing was concrete until now. I know that I’m not supposed to tell you what it is, but truthfully, I think that’s bullshit. That’s not the way it should be done, it’s just the way that it is. No matter what world you’re in, if your society uses a capitalistic system, it’s taboo for people to share their wage information. But that convention is not to protect the people. It’s to protect the corporations. So I’m just gonna come out and say it. I’m now making roughly $108,000 per year. That’s right, I’m at six figures. There’s never been a job quite like this in the country, but they found some close ones. Consultants of this nature usually make just under 100K, but since I’ll be directly responsible for a dozen and a half people, that bumps me up pretty high. I think it’s important for you to know this, because you’re paying for it. My salary comes out of your tax dollars, and I think that it’s only fair that we be transparent about what we’re doing with that money. Don’t worry, I spoke with the legal department to make sure that I’m not violating any sort of non-disclosure agreement. I firmly believe that we need to all be more honest about these things. It empowers workers to advocate for themselves, and to make sure that everyone is earning fair pay for their hard work. Most people aren’t in the industry that I am, but I guess I’m hoping this encourages others to be more open, to help not only themselves, but those who are in less fortunate positions. I hope it doesn’t backfire on me, and just make you angry to see that number, but I don’t think it will. I have faith in you.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Microstory 2177: Dark About a Lot

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
Wow. Just. Wow. These are some nice offices in the jail administrative section. We’re on the top floor of the building, and have a great view of the skyline, as well as some greenery. I prefer the latter, but some prefer the former, so it’s the best of both worlds. They’re giving us an entire conference room, which is big enough to accommodate our eighteen person team. I have my own office that comes right off of that room, and the facilities department has set aside four other workspaces for us. Each subdepartment will be able to separate themselves from the group, and focus on their own stuff. At the moment, the only thing that’s ready is the conference room, since it’s pretty much already configured the right way. It’s lined with bookshelves, so I’m thinking that it used to be a library, which they eventually started using for meetings, but I don’t know what has happened with all that since. It was reportedly pretty dusty in here. I said that I wanted to physically work on a lot of this myself, but I am not bummed out that they did all the cleaning for me. I’m more of a designer and arranger than a cleaner. I have really bad allergies, and I just don’t care for it. I’m weird that way. I’m truly grateful for everything that everyone has done in preparation for this new project, and I’m excited to get started. I spent all day yesterday slowly moving things around in my office, and the other four shared spaces. We need a few things that the jail doesn’t already have on hand for us, like computers, and other various things. I drew up a list so facilities and IT will be working on procuring new equipment and supplies this week. I still had plenty to do on that front today.

Tomorrow, I’m probably going to work exclusively on building out the staff. Back when I was looking for a job—or rather, when employers were looking for me—I was able to tell you about them, to some vague degree. I didn’t think that it was a problem to say this and that about a hypothetical position that I was probably not going to end up taking, as long as I didn’t specify which company was offering. Even if the name of the company ended up being publicized, it probably would have been all right. Now I’m on the other side of that, preparing to interview individual innocent people for my team. So I won’t be telling you anything about the candidates during this process. I won’t even say anything about the ones that I hire, unless they unambiguously tell me it’s okay, and probably not even then. They have a right to their privacy, and they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable applying because something may come out about them. Even if it’s good, it’s not my place to divulge it, whatever it may be. They have the ability to set up their own social media accounts, and build their own websites, should they choose to. Of course, confidentiality being a thing, there’s a lot more about my new job that I won’t be able to say. The jail is now my client, and while they’re fully aware of who I am, and what I do online, they’ve not given me permission to say absolutely anything and everything about what we’re doing here. So be prepared to be left in the dark about a lot. I’ll keep you up to date as much as I can, but my posts could get shorter if everything that I start to deal with is strictly privileged information. They could, therefore, get boring if all I can talk about is my private life. The work I’m getting ready to do here, I believe, is in the interest of the public good, so I’m all right letting my site suffer in service to that. Anyway, I’m tired, so I better grab some dinner, and call it a night.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Microstory 2176: And Young

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
The thing about the way that I’ve developed my website is that I can sometimes get trapped in my own format. When I started out, I wanted to do really short stories on weekdays, and my permanent story on one day of the weekend. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the other day of the weekend, and I didn’t know how canonical I was going to get with the whole thing. It’s the numbers that make the decisions for me. The numbers dictate all. Once I started doing continuous microfiction stories, I decided that I liked to block them out in batches of 100, but there are roughly 260 weekdays every year, and I don’t like to cross the December 31 border, so I can’t always do the 100 installment thing. I end up with remainders, and the value of each remainder often determines what that shorter series is all about. The reason I wrote exactly fourteen sonnets in 2022 is because I had a remainder of fifteen, and could use one of them for an intro. If the remainder had instead been, say, nineteen, I doubt I would have ever thought to do them. I actually decided to change everything up this year by shifting to a regular blog format, hoping that I would have an interesting enough life for that to make sense. As 2024 approached, and I realized that it wasn’t the right call, I had to alter the plan into a fake blog format. That’s what we’ve been doing every weekday since January 1. And like all series here, I don’t get much of a chance to do something different when the situation arises. But it does sometimes arise, and I occasionally have to briefly put my ideas on hold in order to detour to something else. Something important.

I was running a series in 2020 set in another universe. Each installment was told from the perspective of a different fictional character. But then my grandfather died in real life, and I wanted to say something about him. I wanted to get real with my site, so I hit pause on Reactions, and shared my true thoughts. I’m spending a lot of time explaining myself, but I think it’s important for you to understand what a big deal it is for me to deviate from the structure that I’ve limited myself to. The last time I did it was when I lost a dear loved one. Yeah, I do it during introductions too, but those are strongly dependent upon the forthcoming series. These are true shifts, and come from the real me, rather than the fictional version of me. Though, it was fitting back then, since Reactions was about death, and fitting now for other reasons. Last month, my alternate self was pressured into eating meat, even though he was a vegetarian. I was the one who gave him that diet in the first place, even though I hadn’t mentioned it before when he was first introduced, and that’s because I had become a vegetarian myself since then. I’ve struggled with the idea of harming the environment, and killing animals since I was a child. I just didn’t think that I could get all of my nutrition if I cut out meat, and as it turned out, I was spot on. I’ve struggled with my health and weight since college. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted, and still be quite thin, because I was unwittingly super active. And young. As I’ve aged, it’s become harder and harder to match my calorie intake with activity, and if anyone told me that that would happen, I didn’t listen to them. One thing I didn’t think that much about was that most junk food is vegetarian. Sure, I can have an entire pizza, just don’t put pepperoni or sausage on it. Ice cream? Of course! Pastries, chocolate, all the cheese in the world? No problem. Just don’t give me any meat, because animals died to make it, and I don’t like that. In addition to how much you can eat as a vegetarian before you feel full, you have to eat so much to get the comparable protein. So it was really easy to justify the binging regardless of what the food actually was. I have come to the profoundly difficult decision to press pause on my vegetarian diet recently. I’m going to focus on lowering my caloric intake, and erasing my reliance on comfort food that doesn’t do anything for me except make me feel full, and add fat to my belly. It won’t be forever. I just have to get down to my goal, then I know I can start maintaining. I was so close before, I’m certain that I can get there and stay as long as I stop resorting to garbage. Then I’ll go back to where I want to be, for the environment, and for the animals. I just hope this months-long detour doesn’t end up giving me some terminal disease, or something. That would be ironic, wouldn’t it? Oh wait, careful...spoilers. That’s it for me. Nick Fisherman IV will be back tomorrow.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: June 1, 2453

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
The team transported the Sixth Key delegates, the Primus, and her assistant to the Executive Bunker on the other side of the world. From there, they watched the battle that the Transit and the Cormanu were fighting against the onslaught of Ochivari ships. The local squadrons watched from orbit, but did not participate. The public watched as well through minimal satellite feeds, though most of the cameras that were pointed  away from Earth were limited to military and governmental use. After only about fifteen minutes of the shooting, they all disappeared through a technicolor portal. No friend or foe was left on the battlefield. The theory was that the Transit was trying to spare the locals by moving the fighting to another universe, but it could have just as easily been more like the other way around. No one sent them a message, and when the team returned a year later, they still hadn’t heard from anyone, but a lot had changed. Carlin was now a folk hero.
In all this time, they never got a chance to find out what his time powers were, which appeared to run in the family. Apparently, he was kind of like a walking homestone, but with fewer limitations. He could send anyone back to any point in their life just after they departed from that moment using teleportation or time travel; not only the first instance. He was able to return all of the delegates to where they were when the Tree of Life first pulled them to the nucleus. Leona respectfully asked why he didn’t do that before, and he said that he wasn’t certain of the extent of his abilities. He didn’t know that he could relapse across universes, but Thack was able to check to make sure that everyone was back to where they belonged as if they had never left.
“Are you sure you want to use that word?” Mateo asked.
“I like it,” Carlin insisted.
“Well, it’s just that it has negative—”
“I understand. I like it,” he repeated.
“I could relapse you too,” Carlin offered, “now that I know that I can even do it from all the way out here.”
“Can you do it to yourself?” Mateo asked him.
“Then it’s a no for me too. We’re not gonna leave you behind. Though, perhaps Thack would like to go home?”
“She says that she must remain here for a certain amount of time,” Carlin explained. “I offer a way out to her every day.”
“Does it drain you of energy, doing what you do?” Mateo went on.
“It’s invigorating,” Carlin revealed. Even though the orbital battle last year was fought against an armada of ships, it wasn’t like they were the only Ochivari in the universe. More kept coming through smaller breaches on the surface of this planet. Whenever a new arrival was detected, the government would fly Carlin to that location to have him dispatch of the threat. They actually gave him a special hypersonic jet to accomplish this. He might need to travel anywhere in the world to complete his missions, and he was beloved by all for his efforts. Many were coming out of the bunkers, and trying to return to their normal lives as a result. Though, the government wasn’t sure whether that was the right call. One thing that helped them know when an Ochivar had snuck in was because there were fewer humans around for them to blend in with. They had yet to figure out how to detect the portals themselves, and were hoping that the team could help them. “I love all the sudden travel, though I know that the natives are hoping that you can make that simpler.”
“Are you up for that?” Leona asked Ramses.
“What, me? Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, you almost died from equilibrium exposure,” she reminded him.
“Well, I had to test what it was like to be exposed in the equilibrium,” Ramses explained. “And now I’s worse than a vacuum.”
“Next time, wear a helmet,” Leona suggested.
“Aye aye, Captain.” He was trying to keep it light, but Leona wanted to be a little more serious, so he nodded, and added, “I really will. I need to get the Ambassador back up to the surface, and re-embigify it, so I can start working on the detector in my lab.”
“Go ahead,” she allowed.
“I’ll go with you,” Angela offered. They both jumped away.
Soon after they were gone, Thack Natalie Collins entered the room. They were in the executive bunker situation room, where the military usually planned and led the war efforts. It was originally designed to support the continuity of government in the event of a total collapse of civilization, which hadn’t happened yet. However, they were always on the cusp of complete failure, which was why most of Primus Mihajlović’s supporters kept begging recently for her to begin operating out of here fulltime. The second major tactical  assault was all the reason they needed to basically force her to finally accept that, so she and Kineret had been down here for the last year, as was Thack, who was presently serving as a cultural advisor. “Welcome back to reality.”
“We weren’t sure that we would jump at all,” Leona told her. “Being in other universes makes it complicated.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Thack claimed.
“Would you know about the Transit, and the Cormanu?” Mateo pressed. “Where did they go when they left here?”
Thack smiled in a way that made it seem like she was about to school them on the subject. “Psychic abilities are interesting. For the most part, we’re not talking about knowing things without learning them, though that’s definitely part of it. The majority of psychics are limited by their connection to others. That’s what it is; the links that bind us together. Now, you would think that this means I should be able to find our friends wherever they are, especially since I have formed close personal relationships with the Hawthornes, however, I believe that they have traveled beyond my scope. They have gone to a universe where no one else lives. Yes, I’m connected to the people that I already know, but not to anyone else there, because they don’t exist. You’ve been to a handful of branes yourselves, and you’ve always found people to already be living there, such as the one we’re in right now. But most aren’t like that. Most are dead, or lifeless anyway. In the infinity, I think most can’t even harbor life at all, meaning that you can’t go to them, or you’ll just straight up die. I can tell you for a fact that our friends did not end up in one of those extreme scenarios, because I see their futures. But there are plenty of others out there where life is safe, but never evolved. And again, I can’t see them. If you were in the middle of a fight with the Ochivari, you would probably try to go to one of these places, so the conflict did not endanger the lives of innocents.”
“I would if I could, yes,” Mateo agreed. “But just to clarify, you can’t watch them remotely, even when you concentrate, and you can’t guess when they’ll return, if ever?”
Thack shook her head. “I’m saying that I don’t know where they went when they left,” she explained, quite careful with her language. It probably wasn’t safe for them to know too much about the future. She faced Carlin. “Mister McIver, I will be leaving today. Please prepare to relapse me back to Voldisilaverse.”
“I’m ready, we can go right now,” Carlin replied.
“No, no. Mister Abdulrashid needs time to build his little device. When we’ll go, he’ll take measurements of the bulk energy that you’ll be tapping into. That data will be vital for the goal of detecting arrivals as they happen.”
The Primus walked into the room with Kineret, having heard enough from the hallway. “Will we ever be able to predict them, so we can dispatch a team ahead of time? We’re always worried that some remain...somewhere.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Thack repeated herself from earlier.
Naraschone seemed to be used to having to allow Thack her secrets. “Anyway, the military requires this room for a battle exercise for one of their new fighter jets.”
This was where the team happened to be last year when their proverbial hourglass ran out, and they were sent forward in time a year. They weren’t entirely sure when it would happen, since their original pattern was tied to midnight central in Salmonverse. This was a version of Earth, and the bunker was located in Colorado, so their best guess was that it would be the same, using the local time zone borders, but it happened at 22:00 instead, when it was only 23:00 in Kansas. They did not know why.
“We were just leaving,” Thack said respectfully.
As they were exiting, Mateo pulled Thack aside since this was evidently his last time to talk to her. “When I was being possessed by Amber and Sanaa, two others managed to sneak into my mind. One was Meredarchos, I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”
“I have,” Thack said, nodding.
“The other; they were crying for help. Would you have any idea who that could be, or would you not know anything about that?” Hopefully that didn’t come off as harsh.
“It could be a number of people,” Thack answered. “It could be me. It could be one of the people on any of the bulk traveling machines that were here last year, or of the people who travel using other means. It could be you, from your future.” She looked away from him as if her own words had given her an idea. “Or from your past.”
“No, I would remember that,” Mateo insisted.
“Aren’t you missing some personal time? Think back.”
Mateo winced, not knowing what she was talking about, but then he realized that she might be onto something. He did disappear once, from the Third Rail, in the Russian mine where they were looking for timonite to rescue Trina. When he came back, they thought that he had only jumped forward in time a couple of days, but he had always secretly had the feeling that he had actually been detoured somewhere in the meantime, and had since lost his memories of it. He never really talked about that with the others, but it was super weird that he just happened to swallow the one rock that they had been searching for. “Maybe you’re right. You really think that it was just me?”
“Oh, it’s only an idea. You have an opportunity to investigate that you didn’t have before, though. If you don’t have anything else going on, you could talk to Carlin.”
That was an interesting recommendation, one which he should probably take.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Expelled: Explanted (Part I)

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2, and by Pixlr AI image editor
Elder Caverness was being blackmailed. He didn’t know how, but this stranger knew everything about his past. They knew where he had been. They knew what he had done. He was a war criminal, on the run from an authority who may not even exist. The Extremus was the best place for him to hide, because it was so random and inconsequential. That was the whole purpose of the mission, to travel so far from civilization that it no longer interacted with anyone else. He would die on this ship, safe from his past. But the stranger could ruin that. He wasn’t afraid of being found out by someone on this ship per se, but if the truth came out, it could get back to someone who really could get him in trouble. The blackmailer wanted him to do something that he shouldn’t. The Captain asked him to create a device that could transport any passenger back to the launch point, on the day of launch. There were those here who wished they had never come aboard, and this was their chance to undo that mistake. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what this device would do. It would instead banish them to the nearest sufficiently massive terrestrial planet. It didn’t even need to have an atmosphere. The blackmailer just wanted Captain Yenant to be on it. They must have had plans for him, though, because if they just wanted the Captain dead, it would be much easier to program the device to teleport him to interstellar space. Why did it have to be a planet?
There was a knock on the door. Elder didn’t use any cameras, or anything. He was the smartest engineer on the whole vessel, but he still liked to do some things the old school ways. He opened it to find a stranger. Whether it was the same person who was coercing him to do all this was still in question. They never met face to face.
“I’m your blackmailer.” Well, that answered that question. “Did you do what I asked? The Captain will be getting impatient. I calculated an 83% chance that he reaches his breaking point with you today, and that could result in him giving up on this project entirely. That cannot happen.”
Elder slipped his gloves back on, and showed the stranger what he had created. He couldn’t touch it with his bare hands, or he would become one of its victims. Pulling the string, and pressing the button activated it, but anyone who ever came into contact with it would succumb to it. “No, don’t,” he cried when the stranger reached for it.
“Oh, did you think that I wasn’t going on the trip?” He smirked, and took the transporter from Elder. “That’s the whole point, my friend.” He twirled it in his hands, and then handed it back. I calculate a 97% chance that he will use this between forty and fifty-five minutes after receiving it. Please message me when he takes it.”
“What if I can’t get him to touch it?” Elder asked.
“Do whatever you can.” That was odd. Getting rid of Halan Yenant seemed to be this man’s entire motivation. If that wasn’t actually the case, what was he really after?
Shortly after the blackmailer left the room, the Captain did come to check on his progress, and he did retrieve what he believed to be the recall device, but he did not touch it personally. He instead ordered his lieutenant, Rita Suárez to take hold of it. They were suspicious of him right away. Elder should have been cooler about it. He was a pretty good actor. This was absolutely not the first time he had gone undercover. It used to be his entire job. But maybe that was okay, because again, the man who made him do this didn’t seem to care one way or the other anymore. He appeared to be obsessed with probability, so maybe he knew that Halan would touch it eventually, or maybe he wanted Rita to be transported all along, and the best way to make that happen was to pretend that Halan was his target. Elder was pretty smart, but he had no illusions about whether it was possible for someone to outthink or outshine him. He was too old for that, though perhaps not as old as everyone believed. They all called him Old Man because he wanted them to; because it was easier to hide this way.
Rita wasn’t the only one who touched the device, though. Due to their suspicion, they forced Elder himself to place hands upon it as well. He had to find a way to take himself out of the queue. After the Captain and Lieutenant were gone, he got back to work. He ran over to the sink, and started scrubbing his hands vigorously with soap and water. There was a coating on the device, which left a residue on any holder’s skin. Elder had created it, but using a formula that the blackmailer provided. Surely it would come off if you knew that it was there, and worked hard to get rid of it. Right? Maybe not. He kept scrubbing and scrubbing, but his autodermatologist kept detecting a foreign substance. It was still there. He kept scrubbing, but it was just wasting time. The transporter was going to spirit—or maybe it wouldn’t. He threw his watch around his wrist, and activated the regular teleporter. He kept jumping all over the room. Maybe flooding his skin with temporal energy would get rid of the residue. After all, this energy didn’t usually just stay on you forever. It would dissipate, and in this case, hopefully remove anything related from his hands. No, the autoderma still read positive. Shit. There really was no hope. He only had one choice left.
He grabbed his emergency evacuation bag. It was called a Harsh Environment Survival Kit, and they were standardized in this time period in Earth’s stellar neighborhood. Once people started traveling to the stars, researchers came up with something called SCR&M, which stood for Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, & Modularization. Bags like this one were designed to protect against any eventuality, such as having to abandon ship. Older time periods referred to it as a go-bag. Obviously, it could be tailored to one’s specific needs, but there were some strong recommendations, like shelter, air, water, and food. The one that Elder built for himself was unique, and filled with technology that not everyone in the universe even knew existed, like this teleporter gun, which...didn’t have much charge left, but it would do. And most Heskits had collapsible toilets, but this one here led to a pocket dimension, which was of vital importance to Elder’s sanity. He quickly checked inventory, and then disappeared.
His personal teleporter wasn’t able to send him directly into the Hock section, but he was able to get close, and then break in using more traditional means. They were just in an interrogation room, so it wasn’t like he had to make it deep into the belly of the beast. The problem was, he didn’t really know how much time he had left. He reached the door, and could see them through the little window. It was Captain Yenant, Lieutenant Suárez, a fellow genius named Omega Parker, and an awful woman who everyone hated so much, they just called her Airlock Karen. There was no telling how many of them had touched the device. The entire crew could have played a sports game with it by now. Elder would not be able to save the lives of all those people, but he might be able to protect this small group here. That was assuming he couldn’t just stop them from activating it in the first place, which was the ultimate goal. He started banging on the glass. “Stop! I couldn’t wash my hands! It’s not good enough! Don’t push the button, button is bad!”
The group noticed him, but didn’t get up to open the door for more information.
“Don’t push that button!” he urged desperately.
While Halan and Rita were talking, probably trying to decide how to react to this development, Airlock Karen snatched the device from the table, and gave herself some room. Before anyone could stop her, she pulled the string, and pressed the button.
Elder had thought about putting on his suit and helmet, but there was no time. Luckily, the vacuum tent was designed to open and reseal quite quickly. He could have saved himself with little issue, but he wasn’t the only one in danger here. Of course, Airlock Karen came with him, as did Rita. No one else did, though, so Halan had never touched it, and neither had Omega. It was just the three of them. He pointed his teleporter gun at the both of them, calibrated it for the mass of two bodies, and summoned them to his position. He tugged on the string to expel the tent, which enveloped them like a Venus flytrap, wrapping them up completely. The valve on the emergency air tank opened on its own as well, and began to fill the space with a breathable atmosphere. They weren’t out of the woods yet, though. The ladies had passed out already, because they did not expect any of this to happen, but Elder was about to suffer from the same fate. He retrieved the dermal wand from the pack, and flashed it against his neck. He felt immediate relief, but his body still needed time to absorb the nanococktail. He gave Rita and Airlock Karen their own flashes, then let himself pass out next to them.
He awoke later to someone shaking him at the shoulders. He blinked, coughed, and checked his watch. It hadn’t been that long, so the tank had plenty left in it to keep them alive until he could get the carbon scrubber working. “Report,” Rita demanded.
“I screwed up,” Elder answered.
“Ya think?” Karen asked sarcastically.
“I’ll explain everything. Right now, we need to solve our immediate issue, which is air.” He reached into his bag to take out the scrubber, and the tablet. He handed Rita the latter. “Here, interface with the tent. Make sure there are no leaks or vulnerabilities.”
“Wait, where are we?” she pressed. When Elder just gave her a harsh look, she sighed, and did as she was told, because it was the only logical next step. They could talk and work at the same time.
“I don’t know where we are. We’re wherever the Extremus was when she pushed that blasted button.”
“Oh this is my fault?”
“Partially, yeah. I literally told you to not do it. Did you think that maybe there was some reason for that, and that I wasn’t just high and confused?”
“I don’t know who you are, or what power you yield. Maybe you were the admiral, who could have stopped Halan from letting me go home.”
“Vice Admiral Perran Thatch isn’t Halan’s boss. He’s an advisor.”
“Well, whatever.”
“Old Man,” Rita began, “why are we here?”
“Someone made me do this. I thought he was trying to remove Yenant from the equation, but now I’m thinking that he wanted all three of us to be here instead. He’s smart. He’s real smart. He knew things that he shouldn’t have known. About me.”
“Halan was always suspicious of you. No one knows where you come from, or who gave you the job that you had.”
“I gave it to myself. I’m good with computers.”
“How do we get back to the ship?” Rita asked him.
“We’ll worry about that later,” Elder insisted.
“Later is too late,” Karen argued. “The ship will be out of range by then.”
“Extremus travels two light years every day,” Elder volleyed. “It’s well out of range already. I didn’t want to put the horse before the cart by explaining the long-term goal so soon, but our only hope of returning is to go back in time, which will...take time.”
“I never understood that,” Rita said, almost getting comfortable here, but still checking for leaks. “Why does it seem like it’s easier to go back in time than to go faster than light? The reframe engine has a maximum speed, but couldn’t someone build something that surpasses it? Aren’t they basically the same thing?”
“The difference is that the power required to travel through time scales linearly with mass, and distance from egress to ingress. Faster-than-light travel, on the other hand, scales exponentially from a high starting value. All current theoretical designs demand types of power generation that we do not yet have. A hypothetical ship with true FTL would probably have to be gigantic from the onset, and the more you want to pack on it, the more powerful the power source has to be. It suffers from similar downsides as the rocket equation. You want more payload, you need more fuel. To add more fuel, you need a bigger ship. You got a bigger ship, you need more fuel. It’s a vicious cycle that a time machine would have no trouble with. That’s not to say that building one will be easy. Back on Extremus, I had resources. Here, we’re tied to what I was able to carry in my bag, and whatever is here on this world.”
“I don’t suppose there’s enough for all three of us,” Rita reasoned.
He looked between the two of them. “The pack is made with one survivor in mind, but we can stretch it out if we’re careful.” He finished engaging the carbon scrubber, so he hung it up near the ceiling, and took the tablet back to interface with it too. “We’ll have to ration food, and really be careful about how we recycle our waste, but we should be okay. Water is our main concern as it’s the most difficult to insulate from leakage. We will be drinking our own urine for a while.”
“We do that anyway,” Airlock Karen said dismissively.
“Not like this,” Elder said with a heavy sigh. “The miniature filters we’re limited to don’t do much for the taste. But I think I can program the dayfruit seeds to produce extra sugar to mask the taste a little.” Dayfruit was a genetically engineered food that someone came up with centuries ago. It weighed about five pounds, and could provide a single person’s entire nutritional needs for one day. Under ideal circumstances, one took about a week to grow, but to conserve water, they would have to lengthen the growing period intentionally.
Rita sighed and looked around at their new prison. A lone survivor could go a bit crazy in the limited space, so the three of them should be total maniacs within only a few weeks. “I need an inventory of everything that we have on hand. After that, you’ll need to come up with a survival plan with extension contingencies. Once you’re done with those, start working on the escape plan. I’m not going to give you a time limit for when we need to be back on Extremus, but I will tell you that the answer is not never. Debra, I see you. It’s not his job to get you home. Gatewood is far too far away to worry about right now. So while he’s working on his assignments, and I’m setting up the dayfruit grower hourglasses, it will be your job to shut up. Do you think you can handle that?”
There was a knock on the tent.