Sunday, January 31, 2016

Skewed Slightly to the Left: Theories Chloe has heard

[Originally posted at Slacktivist.]

"Dad," Chloe said to her father, sleeping on the couch because he couldn't face his empty bedroom. "Dad!"
"Let me sleep, Irene," he mumbled.
That hit like a knife to the heart, but Chloe pushed the feeling aside. She'd had to learn to deal with the physical rather than feelings to make it here. It wasn't a lesson she'd soon forget. You could mourn, sob, freeze up, or wish for death when there was downtime, but first you had to deal with the problem at hand.
She shook her father's shoulder.
"Dad, it's passed noon," Chloe said. When she was sure he was awake, she added, "time for food."
"You don't need to wait on me, Chlo," her father said. "Just have something for yourself."
"You know what happens when you don't eat?" Chloe asked, "You're tired all the time, a headache sets in that never ends, you start to get weak, even something like walking a short distance exhausts you, and with all that going on, you don't even think to eat."
Her father sat up at that, "Has that happened to you Chlo?"
"Two thousand miles is a long way," Chloe said. He didn't need to know what she'd been through, it wouldn't help. "I can see the signs, you need food."
"Alright," her father said, "alright."
- - -
Rayford looked at Chloe as they ate a meal composed of, basically, what was grab. He wanted to tell her that he believed that they'd been through the rapture and the only hope they had of seeing Irene or Raymie again was to convert to their religion. But it wouldn't be right to just force that on her.
If he was going to tell her what he believed, then he first should listen to what she believed. It was only fair. "What do you think happened, Chloe?"
"A lot of people back at the university thought that it had to be aliens," Chloe said, "Who else could have technology that targeted human beings but didn't touch any other mammals? A militia that claimed some of the territory I went through as their own were convinced it was the government. Something about chemtrail exposure and children being most susceptible. They didn't have an explanation for why it only hit people, but when I brought that up one pointed out that animals don't leave clothes behind, so we might not notice them as much.
"There's a cult in Wyoming that thinks it was a first strike by the devil, and the apocalypse is coming. On the other hand a Nebraska cult I bumped into thinks that it's God, those who were worthy were taken, everyone else is damned. The gates of heaven barred.
"A helo pilot I got a lift from is convinced that the world we see isn't real, this is all some kind of computer program and the servers handling children and certain adults went down. He was remarkably unperturbed by the idea. I think because he believes that tech support will get the servers back up and then everyone we lost will be returned.
"A street preacher in Des Moines claims its proof that we're all actually living in the first century. The theory is, basically, that we're all living Acts 29 and Jesus is about to return but, in order to draw us away from belief the devil invented all of human history since then as a delusion so we won't be ready when the second coming comes. Under this theory it's been about 13 years since the delusion set in so none of the children really existed in the first place, and the people who disappeared didn't either.
"Obviously that theory has even more holes in it than the idea that the universe had a hiccup and dumped a lot of people in the next dimension over.
"There are so many theories out there, and the truth is that none of them make any more sense than, 'It just happened by random chance,' because what happened is impossible.
"I'm waiting on more evidence," Chloe said.
Rayford nodded, but then he said, "I think that your mother was right. She said this would happen right down to people disappearing but their clothes being left behind."
"I can see how you'd believe that," Chloe said, "but that makes God a monster who was responsible for all of the death that followed the event. Surely an all powerful being could wait until someone had parked their car to take them."
"I don't have an answer for that," Rayford said. "But I think that the only way to see the others again is to join their religion."
"It would also make God a kidnapper," Chloe said. "Every child was taken, not just the ones who believed in that particular strain of Christianity. They were taken from their families without being given a choice."
"I know that too," Rayford said. "I don't have any moral answers, but I do think your mother was right."
"How are we supposed to feel about them being with a mass murdering kidnapper if it's true?" Chloe asked.
"Maybe there are things that we don't know about that somehow made it necessary," Rayford offered weakly.
"The lesser of extreme evils?" Chloe asked.
"I don't know," Rayford said.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Inverse Joy Plausibility

To recap: I'm university this semester, at a price tag of about a thousand dollars I don't have, because I was sticking around to take classes that were discontinued after I decided to stick around this year and thus told my mental health practitioners they had until the end of this semester to manage to smoothly hand me off to someone else, thus I need to keep them until the end of this semester, thus I need to take a class even though the good ones no longer exist.

In that class (only takes one to be a student) the teacher likes people taking notes in the books and wants us to do it.  I'm actually a fan of marginalia myself.  There's so much that we only know about from people scrawling stuff everyone knew in the margins.  That said, I'm not good at making it.

None the less, at the top of the page, over the title, I wrote "Inverse Joy Plausibility".  That's not a fully formed phrase, much less a coherent thought, but here's what happened.

I was thinking, in depth, about a certain kind of story, then I sat down to read the assigned story and got that sort of story vibes, though I dismissed them when the vibes didn't seem to pan out, then I hit an emotional turning point and felt sure that it was that kind of story, and the ending bore that out.

The story was "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin.  It was written on April 19th, 1894 and published on December 6th of the same year.  If you don't want it spoiled, stop reading now or, you know, take this moment to go and read it.  It's not very long at all.

Ok, so what happens is this

  • The main character has a heart condition and they're worried any shock could kill her
  • In comes a telegraph saying that her husband is dead, the husband's friend gets confirmation that he's really dead and then rushes off to try to break the news lightly, picking up main character's sister on the way
  • Main character doesn't have denial or anything, the blow hits her all at once and she goes off to be alone
  • She has a feeling that she's been so conditioned not to feel that she sees it as something external to herself and is afraid when she feels it coming but when it does come...
  • FREEDOM!  In the society (and class) she was in the only free women were widows and where before she'd hoped for a short life because it kind of, you know, sucked, now that she's awakened to this freedom of widowhood she wants a long life in which she is in charge of herself.
  • Turns out her husband isn't dead, he wasn't even near the accident and didn't know there was one.  The shock of the freedom lost does in fact kill her.
  • The doctors assume that the only thing a woman could feel at seeing her thought dead husband alive is joy, so they assume that the joy killed her.  Fuckers.
There is an emotional structure to this kind of a story, and that's what I was thinking about before sitting down to read the story, thus before I knew it was this kind of story.

Things start really fucking bad.  She's emotionally wrecked by the news, sobbing uncontrollably.  When the good part of the situation starts to dawn on her she's afraid of it.  In class there was looking at the exact words and as the teacher put it "When an unknown thing is creeping out of the sky to possess you, that's usually not good," or thereabouts.

But then throughout the course of the story things get better and better.  She realizes the freedom and the more she thinks about it the better she gets.  She realizes that, while she did love her husband (sometimes) and was and will be sad that he is dead (she knows she'll be crying uncontrollably again at the funeral) she cares about freedom more than love and indeed more than anything else in her life.

She seriously went from a position of wanting to live a short life to wanting to live for a long damn time.  And then, when good emotions are at their peak, a twist brings everything crashing down to tragedy.

That works.

We as readers, viewers, listeners, and general consumers of fiction are prepared to believe in a dramatic story in which things get better and better and then a deus ex machina destroys all hope and joy.

But what if we flipped it?

She starts out in a good place, awaiting the return of her love, but as the story progresses there are subtle hints, then not so subtle hints, and finally confirmation that he died on the return journey, she her good place is destroyed and she sinks lower and lower into depression and even reaches the point of being suicidal.  Then, when things are at their darkest, the husband walks in and it turns out that, just like in the real story, he's fine, he wasn't near the accident that was reported to have killed him, and didn't even know there had been one.  Joy reinstated and they live happily ever after.

It would never work.  We can have the out of left field thing in comedy, but not in drama.  Mind you if I remove the last sentence "Joy reinstated and they live happily ever after" it can work.  Think the Twilight Zone episode where it turned out, oops, there wasn't a nuclear attack coming.  What people did in the dark times made it impossible to go back to the way things had been.  There was no returning to the light.  That ending worked.

Down endings, it seems, work.

If him returning had somehow made everything better though, it wouldn't.

It was reported that the husband died and the first thing that happened was that a telegraph was sent back saying, "Are you sure this guy was killed," and the reply was, "Yup, he's totes dead."

To have him return and make everything good would be rejected by the audience as implausible bullshit.  Deus Ex Machina at the worst.  (And you don't even get Dionysus on a crane.)

But to have the exact same thing, return home unscathed after being reported and then confirmed dead with an explanation of "He was never even there in the first place" that works.

Somehow, the idea of plausibility is tied inversely to the idea of good outcomes.  Does this produce joy?  Not plausible.  What if it did the exact opposite but was otherwise exactly the same?  Totally plausible.

It's part of why happy endings are so much harder to pull off.  A lazy writer (which Kate Chopin was not, it's a good story with important things to take from it) can do down endings just fine.  It takes really fucking craft to make a happy ending that resonates with an audience as non-contrived.

For some reason, we're accepting of contrivance provided that the result is "It got worse."

Before looking at Chopin's story focused me on that, I was imaging a land dispute.

Imagine someone's great grandparent's farm.  If it was divided equally at each generation then, depending on how many kids were common in the family, there could be a lot of partial owners.

If they had kids like my dad's family then whoever our protagonist is finds themselves with about 343 family members of their own generation plus however many of of the about 49 members of the previous generation are still involved.  If they had kids like my mom's family then the numbers are a bit more reasonable 8 same generation stakeholders and 4 older generation stakeholders.

Add in a few developers, the city council, a nature conservatory group or two.
If we take this land dispute and have things get worse and worse until the protagonist is going to have to give up because ze doesn't have the funds to compete, and then when all hope is lost the protagonist finds buried treasure, is able to buy out the other stakeholders, and saves the farm then readers are going to cry, "bullshit!"

Flip it.  The protagonist goes around to the various stakeholders and interested parties and slowly, with ever so much difficulty, there's hope and everyone is just about ready to agree to a deal mercifully just before the protagonist isn't able to afford working on this shit anymore.  Then that same buried treasure is found and suddenly everyone isn't willing to agree to the deal because they now believe the property is worth more and now archaeologists are joining the bickering table.

The readers are going to say, "Figures."

I don't really have a point beyond the fact that it seems like people in general find joy and happy endings unbelievable and thus not credible while they're much more ready to find the opposite plausible.

And that makes down endings easy and happy ones hard.  Not that it should be used to judge writers.  The built-in plausibility of of down endings doesn't take away from the craft of good writers who use them.  A lot of writers who do up endings aren't actually up for the task of selling them and so it comes off as forced and false.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It got worse.

Not financially, I still need $813.80 or else very bad things.  No, something else happened.

Yesterday I got food.  That is good.  It marks the end (I hope) of two weeks or more of downward spiral where I didn't have the energy to make food (and didn't have much food that was already prepared) and so didn't eat much, and so didn't have calories, and thus didn't have the energy to make food, and thus...

But you don't just instantly get better after that, especially since I got the food late yesterday.

As I moved zombie like through my day, which included the one class I'm taking to stay in university thus giving time for a decent transition to outside medical care, at one point I picked up my bag without remembering to zip it first.

Out came my computer which had a nasty, and loud, meeting with the floor.  The impact tore apart the casing around the left hinge but, when I was able to turn the computer on afterward, didn't seem to have screwed up the computing.

"Seem" being the operative word.

As is becoming fairly standard it has two drives.  One to run the operating system and important programs and whatnot, one to hold everything else.  The reason it seemed ok was that the operating system drive is operating.

The other drive doesn't even show up as existing.  If I'm lucky there's just a connection that got knocked loose.  But even then if I want it fixed without voiding my warranty I probably need to have the professionals whose job it is be the ones to fix it.  If I'm not lucky I just lost the vast majority of my data.

Either way, I'm probably out of a primary computer for a while.  And I have to add going to turn my computer over to tech support to the list of things to do.

As with so many computer related things, no idea what the fuck this will do to posting here.

Begging for money again

As you may have noted the last time I did a fundraising post I brought up two looming problems.

One was that the $200 per month hole wouldn't really hit hard until non monthly expenses (taxes on the house, insurance on the house) came around, the other was because I've only recently figured out how the hell the billing structure was set up, I've never really budgeted for the cost of internet.

Taxes are due February 11th.  $650something  $657ish sounds about right.  Or maybe $659 and change?  (I don't have the figure in front of me right now.)  While usually I had wiggle room with this, it looks like I might not this time.  It looks like I'll need the money on time (which tends to incur an additional 12 to 15 dollars to get it fast) because I probably can't count on a family member being able to make the payment and then me paying them back.

Internet needs money too $139.80

Use the high figure for taxes, the low figure for fees, and the exact figure for internet and that's $813.80

Here's the thing: I got my oil but the payment still hasn't gone through (I need to call them about that, but calling is hard, especially during business hours.)  That means that my account is telling me that I have money which I know for a fact I don't have.  But I'm not sure how much.

I think that of that $813.80 I can probably only pay less than a hundred dollars, but probably not too much less.

So we're back to the never ending series of potential catastrophes.

Please give me money so I can keep my house and my internet connect.  Usual caveats apply.  Don't give if you can't afford to.  I don't want anyone hurting because of me.

Also, the new discovery that apparently it's better for me if you sent the money through paypal by sending it to my email cpw (at) maine (dot) rr (dot) com than if you use the donate button (top right corner.)

- - -

Samantha, I owe you a book.  I do still have a few copies of The Princess Who Saved Herself and I've always meant to send you one but I only remember at times I can't actually pull it off.  I've given my email above.  Pester me until I tell you it's on the way.  So damned sorry for not sending it to you two months ago.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Life After: Mag and other scattered bits and pieces

Maybe the reason that I'm having such trouble getting the Kim Possible things in my head out of my head and into words on the screen is that I've been trying to write them in a style that fits the fan-fiction sites where people read them.  Well, I know some people read them here (thank you, you wonderful handful) but more people read them there.

If I were trying to write Edith and Ben in order, after all, I'd have only published three or, maybe, four installments instead of 43ish (I'm not going to do the work of weeding out metaposts and such from the tag-count.)

I was going to have a general mind dump of Life After stuff, but it was easier to focus on things surrounding one character.  Maggie/Mag/Mags was created for the primary timeline of the magnum opus Kim Possible fic that I'll probably never get around to writing.

* * *


“Is there enough to build a time machine?” Shin asked.

“Not even close,” Jacob said.

“So we're--”

“No, it is enough to point us in the right direction,” Jacob said.  “From just what I've done so far I've got a lead on a temporally unstable artifact and a much better understanding of how space-time has been fu-”

“Language,” Shin said.

“How space-time has been fully--”

“Just tell what we need to do without the lies about what you'd have said.”

“Road trip,” Jacob said.

“To where?” Shin asked.

“Where else?” was Jacob's reply.

Shin knew what that kind of a response meant: “Middleton.”

“Well, the tri-city area.  Your home attracts weird like a--”

“Let's just go”

* * *

“Something new?” Shin asked.

“I won't know for sure until we're there,” Jacob said, “but I think that it's only part of the artifact in the tri city area.”

“Bad for us?” Shin asked.

“Not necessarily,” Jacob said. “I've got a much better read on the rift and I think we can use it to...”  Jacob paused a moment.  “Actually I can check really easily right now.  Give me the spare malachite amulets from the ritual.”

“The ten amulets that you left in a toxic underground room with nary a look back?” Shin asked.

“Yes,” Jacob said.

“The ones that I've never given any indication I picked up?” Shin asked.

“Those are the ones,” Jacob confirmed

Shin said, “The ones that I might have decided to stop lugging around even on the off chance that I did--”

“Just give me the amulets,” Jacob said.

Shin took them out of out of the pouch they'd been in since their first day in the changed world and handed them to Jacob.  As she did she met his eyes and didn't look away.

“What?” Jacob asked.

Shin didn't say anything.

“Yes, you're very smart for realizing that they might be important and bringing them along,” Jacob said.  “Your resourcefulness may have saved the universe.  Are you happy now?”

Shin smiled, “I am a bit happy.”

“Ok, so ten ...” Jacob said to himself.  “How should I--”

“Two pentagrams, amulets at the points, offset from each other by twenty three degrees,” Shin said.

Jacob shrugged, “Worth a shot, I guess.”

After arranging the amulets he placed his device in the middle of them.

Jacob looked up at her.  When he said, “How?” it was with complete befuddlement.

“I've picked up some stuff here and there,” Shin said.

“That was way more than...” Jacob said.  “It's... the stochastic feedback loops alone mean that determining it would take... damn.”

“Thanks,” Shin said.  “What does the doohickey say?”

“Not remotely the same, but think of it as the same principles that we used to summon your great grandmother,” Jacob said.

“Because of the rift we can do something that we are, in fact, woefully unprepared to do?” Shin asked.

“Yeah,” Jacob said.  “And about that, no way that rift gave you the figure of twenty three degrees the way that it let us summon great grandma Possible when what we did should have had no hope of success; how did you know?”

“I've picked up some stuff,” Shin said.

Jacob gave an incredulous look.

“Ok, fine,” Shin said.  “My genetics make me predisposed to be ... uh ... really athletic without needing to put in nearly as much effort as almost anyone else on my level.  And this,” she lit her plasma in her left hand, “I never did anything to earn.

“Kieran, though... her magic is something she's had to work for and study and ... sometimes I feel like I'm not pulling my weight and I don't like the idea that I get where I am because of what I am instead of who I've worked to become.”

“That,” Jacob said, “I understand.”

“So,” Shin said, “time machine?”

“It'll be the worst time machine ever built, clunky as hell and completely outside of any OSHA regulations,” Jacob said.

“But it'll work?” Shin asked.

“We'll have to recover the partial artifact, probably scrounge up a lot of large metal parts --an underground parking garage might work, though that means dealing with the mold problem-- and it'll be one use only,” Jacob said, “but yeah, it'll work.”

* * *

“Who are you people?” the girl asked.

“We're the bad guys,” Jacob said.

“We are not the bad guys,” Shin said.  Why did Jacob insist on making everything difficult?

“We're planning on destroying the world,” Jacob said to her.

“We're planning on fixing the world, now stop-” Shin said.

"Fixing the the world, as you put it, will erase her entire world from existence and replace it with one more to our liking,” Jacob said.

“That can't be ...” Shin started, but she knew it wasn't true before she'd finished the sentence, so she said, “shit.”

“Language, princess,” Jacob said with a smirk on his face.

“We need to talk to each other for a moment,” Shin said to the girl.

They walked a short distance away and before Shin could say anything Jacob said, “Why is it that whenever I have to do anything good you insist on calling me a hero,” because it annoyed him, obviously, he had to know that, “but when you're doing something bad you can't admit you're being a bit villainous?”

“We're not destroying this world,” Shin said.

“Are you sure?” Jacob asked.  “I though you wanted our world back.”

“I do, how do we do that?” Shin asked.

“I'm the bad one, remember, what makes you think--”

“I know my arch nemesis--”

“Technically the boss is your arch nemesis and I'm just the hired help,” Jacob said.

“You'll steal, you'll break, enter, vandalize, blow up, threaten, blackmail, fight, and fraudulently convince people that you're an official representative of the Church England,” Jacob smiled in response to that one, Shin had expected as much, “not to mention many, many other things, but mass murder is definitely out of bounds for you.”

“Is it really murder if they're never born to begin with?” Jacob asked.

“I'm serious,” Shin said.  Jacob said nothing.  “Come on, you've had your fun.”

“Ok, but I note that you never once considered what effect reshaping the world in your image would have on the people already in it,” Jacob said.

“It's noted,” Shin said; “get on with it.”

“That kind of failure to consider others in your morality is a very villainous trait,” Jacob said.

“Fine!  You win.  Point conceded,” Shin said.  “Tell me the plan already.”

“Ok, ok,” Jacob said.  “We're going need to use the the original rift itself for two reasons, one is that it's inextricably linked to Mancer's ritual since that's what created it,” Shin knew that, she was the one who told Jacob, “that'll allow time travel even though our temporally unstable artifact looks to be only partially complete and our tech on hand is woefully inadequate.”  Shin waited because she knew that at least now Jacob would get to the actual point if given enough time. “The second is that even with the time travel made physically possible we're going to need a lot of power, way more than we can actually produce, so we'll draw it from the rift.”

There was a natural pause in Jacob's monologue so Shin used it to express her impatience: “And the actual point comes in when?”

“As long as we're drawing power from the rift, which will weaken it, why not collapse it entirely?”  Jacob asked. Shin knew it was rhetorical, and waited for the point.  “We'll channel the fallout from the collapse through the amulets and that should be enough to anchor this timeline.”

“Imbue the whole dimension with the immunity from temporal changes,” Shin said.

“Yeah; an unending stable inter-dimensional rift takes a lot of energy and collapsing it in on itself through temporal anchors should fix that particular moment in the timeline, so then when we change the past so that this world never came into being, the moment we left it remains unchanged and this world goes on from there as naturally it would while our world goes on the way it should next to it.  We'd essentially be creating a new spur dimension.”

“So we won't damage this world,” Shin said.

“Nope,” Jacob said.

“And you came up with all of this, as a result of considering others in your own moral decision making process,” Shin said.  It was finally her turn to smirk.

“Don't even start,” Jacob said.  Shin knew she didn't need to, she'd already landed the blow.

They walked back to the girl.

“Thanks for waiting,” Shin said.  “We just had to work some things out so we we'd be on the same page.”

“You're weird,” the girl said.

“That we are,” Jacob said.  “You're the first other human we've seen since we got here, is there a settlement nearby?”

“Jacob,” Shin said, “we haven't even made introductions.”  Shin said, “I'm Shin,” to the girl.

“You just heard her call me Jacob,” Jacob said, “so I think you can guess my name.”

“Alicia,” the girl said.

* * *

“Just run the scan,” Shin said.

“I'm setting up,” Jacob replied with frustrating calm.  “I said I would.”

“Then stop going on about how pointless it is, and start doing it.”

He started assembling the electronics that the toadstool people had given them to use --which Jacob still insisted that he had looted to desecrate because the toadstool people only gave permission after he'd started re-purposing them-- into a device centered on the half-of-a-monkey idol they'd recovered from the museum.  The device within the now familiar offset pentagrams formed with amulets at the points.

There was nothing for Shin to do but watch at this point.

“Ok, ” Jacob said, “global scan commencing.”

“Good,” Shin said.  She was convinced that there had to be someone else.  There couldn't just be them left.

“Pointless,” Jacob said.  Shin ignored it.

“Oh, look, Mancer is in Norway,” Jacob said.  “That changes everything.”  The sarcasm, it did drip.

A few moments later he said, “First pass is done.  Looks like no one specifically prepared for this eventuality--”

“Like you called it,” Shin said, she wasn't letting Jacob get an, “I told you so,” in.

Jacob said, “Second scan will take a bit longer--”

And then he sprinted out of the room.

Shin could have looked at the machine, but wouldn't know what it meant.  Instead she followed him.

“What is it?” she asked.  No response.

He was headed for the museum's parking garage.

“Put on a gas mask!” Shin shouted, they'd burned off the mold, yes, but the volatile organic compounds created hadn't had time to air out.

Jacob at least responded to that by altering course to grab safety gear.

“What did you see?” she asked when she caught up to him where they'd left the gas masks.

“You were right, I was wrong, moving on,” Jacob said.

Then he was on his way into the garage, she thought she could catch him again, when he stopped for tools, but it had taken her too long to locate the second gas mask.

Shin followed and by the time she found him he was already frenetically tearing rusted cars apart to build something.

“I thought we agreed that whatever we found we'd form a plan before rushing in,” she said.

“Yup,” Jacob said, “completely ignoring the agreement.  Stay out of my way.”

“I'll help you,” Shin said, “if you tell me what's going on.”

Jacob stopped and looked at her for half as second, then said, “A friend's in trouble; cut the transmission out that Chevy.”

Shin looked at the car indicated.

“I just need the transmission,” Jacob said as he yanked something out from under a pickup truck.  “So just slice through.”

Shin lit her hands and cut through the car.  She had the transmission out soon after.

As with many Jacob inventions, it was largely impossible to tell what the thing he was putting together was supposed to do.

“Ok, secure it here,” Jacob pointed to a spot to one side of the device, “and hook it into the power supply.”

Shin didn't bother pointing out that there was no logical way a car's transmission could serve any useful purpose in that position.  Evil science seldom made sense.  It did tend to work, though.  She used her plasma to fuse it in place and hitched it to the loose leads.

“I thought you said we wouldn't get any information beyond whether they were using the same magic as Mancer,” Shin said

“I did say that,” Jacob said as he removed more parts from more vehicles, never slowing down.  “The transmission from the Ford over there next,” Jacob said, pointing without even looking.  “Same position, other side.”

“So how do you know it's a friend of yours?” Shin asked as she got to work on the Ford.

“Take too long to explain,” Jacob said.  A sentence with no subject, how wonderful.  “Once you're done with that I could use the bed and cabin from that El Camino” Jacob said.  “Ditch the engine block, the wheels, chassis, everything but the bed and cabin.”

“That's a lot heavier than a transmission,” Shin said, “how are you expecting to move it?”

“I'll deal with that,” Jacob said, “you just disconnect it.”

“Right,” Shin said letting her lack of enthusiasm for the plan show as she drew the word out.  But she got to work on it.  Well, first she grabbed some jacks that Jacob had been using --if he wasn't going to explain, then she wasn't going to ask permission-- then she got to work on it.

“And make it into a convertible,” Jacob said.

“You're so damned needy,” Shin said.

When she was done she said, “Finished -- no idea how you plan to lift the body off the frame-- but it's finished.”

“Thanks, don't think there's anything else you can do.”

* * *

Shin was glad to have the gas mask back off again and be breathing clean air, but she had another concern. Wherever they were going, they might not make it back before dark, and there was no guarantee they'd find a hearth.  The work they'd done to set up a passable one here might have been for nothing.

She collected the amulets into her pouch, carefully wrapped the components of Jacob's time sensing device in soft fabric, and loaded them into her pack along with the monkey idol.  Then she stole a Utah raptor claw that she'd had her eye on since coming to this museum as a child.  Might as well get some souvenirs.

* * *

A rumble alerted Shin to something being up, but once she realized it was coming from the garage she assumed it was Jacob.

Soon he drove out in what had once been the El Camino.

“Of course you'd make it a hover craft,” Shin said.

“Have you seen the state that roads are in?” Jacob asked.  “You coming? Because I'm going.”

Shin hopped in and they started to leave at truly unsafe speeds.

“We've got time now,” Shin said.  “What makes you think it's a friend of yours?”

“Remember what I said it would take for someone to survive the timeline change?”

“I remember you saying it was impossible,” Shin said.

“No, I never said that,” Jacob said.  “I just said the the circumstances required defied credibility.”

“And yet, here we are.”

“Incredible, I know.”  Shin had to force herself not to cringe at Jacob's atrocious wordplay.

Shin sighed, “You set me up.”

“Set you up for what?” Jacob asked with the too-innocent voice of someone not even pretending to be innocent.

“Ok, you said that it would require some kind of Halloween related holy place, immense power, fine control over said power, and malachite,” Shin said.

“Yup,” Jacob said, “Remember Mags?”


“You met her that time you nearly killed me,” Jacob said, “I left was hanging by an arm with a dislocated shoulder 500 feet about street level, you must remember.”

“It was an accident and I tried to save you after I saw the danger you were in,” Shin said.

“Fat lot of good that did,” Jacob said, “if it weren't for Mags I'd have died.”

“Maybe you shouldn't have been--” and it clicked, “Mag was the one with the powers.”

“Yeah,” Jacob said, “I can't even visit childhood friends without you butting in.”

“You were recruiting her for a world domination scheme,” Shin said.  “Trying to bribe her into being evil.”

“The bribe was buying her ice cream,” Jacob said.

Shin didn't know what to do with that.

“Ice cream?” she asked.

“I promised her that if she helped out that one time I'd make sure she was never unable to afford strawberry ice cream again,” Jacob said.

“How does that even work?” Shin asked.

“Prepaid card that's good wherever any kind of credit card is taken,” Jacob said.  “The hard part was getting it to find out what kinds of card were taken at a given establishment and read as one of them.”

“Whatever,” Shin said.  This still didn't completely explain things, “So she provides the power, what about your other requirements?”

 “I'm guessing you don't remember her necklace,” Jacob said. “Green spiral that looks like a tadpole trying to curl into a ball.”

“Malachite,” Shin said.  “And the holy place?”

“It was before our time, the year my sister was born,” Jacob said, Shin mentally translated that to 2006, “it got cold that year.  Five of us --street kids-- froze to death in Go City around the 31st, maybe actually on it.”

“That should never be allowed to happen,” Shin said.

“And yet it does,” Jacob said.  “Someone made a sort of shrine to them, and by the time I was old enough to remember it was for all of those who had been lost.”

“The Halloween holy place you thought didn't exist,” Shin said.

“Day of the Dead,” Jacob said, “which I'm told is completely different.”

“But still on the same day,” Shin said.

Jacob nodded.  “Mags would have been taking some of the younger kids there to make offerings before they went out to try to get candy.”

“So we're going to Go City?” Shin asked.

“Yup,” Jacob said.

“There'll be draugar, there,” Shin said.

“Almost certainly,” Jacob said.

“Go City is enough of a prize that they've probably kept it in what passes for working order,” Shin said.

“I know,” Jacob said.  “Don't care.”

“I thought her name was 'Mag'.”

“'Mags' to me, 'Mag' to most people, 'Maggie' to legalistic people.”

* * *

“Sniper rifles are cheating,” Jacob said.

“No argument,” Shin said, “I'm just saying that it shouldn't have been unexpected.  They're every bit as smart as they were when they were alive.”

“So you've said,” Jacob said. “Repeatedly.”

“So stop underest--” Shin stopped as they turned a corner and saw ... something.  “What the hell is that?”

Bits of metal were floating in the air, some of them quite large, and lightning bolts were jumping between them almost constantly.

“That's my friend,” Jacob said and ran into the bizarre storm.

* * *

Mags was at the very center of the storm, as was to be expected.  Sitting legs crossed, eyes open but not seeing anything.  Not moving.  Jacob counted seven children.  Susan, Eric, Z, Pip, Mike, Isa, Rob.

“Mags,” Jacob said as he approached her.  No response.  “Mags?”  Nothing. He reached out to touch her.

Susan shouted, “Jacob, don't!” but it was too late, he didn't have enough time to make his hand stop.

* * *

Shin got into the calm area in the  center of the storm just in time to see Jacob to be thrown five feet through the air and make a hard landing, apparently because he'd touched his friend Mag.

“We learned that the hard way too,” a girl --maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, blonde, pale freckled skin-- said to Jacob.  The girl helped Jacob to his feet.

“Thanks, Susan,” Jacob said to the girl, “How long has she been like this?”

“Since Halloween,” a boy --probably seven or eight, dark hair, tanned skin-- said.  “We tried to get help, but if we go too far away we start feeling weird.  Really weird.”

“Being erased probably does that to you, Mike,” Jacob said.  Then he seemed to notice Shin.

“Everyone this is Shin,” he said to the kids.

“The one from your stories?” Susan asked.

What stories?

“Yes,” Jacob said, “but you should introduce yourselves.”

“I'm Susan,” Susan said.

“Eric,” said a boy who looked to be eight.  He had rusty hair and pale white skin.

“Pip,” said a girl who maybe six years old.  Kinky black hair, dark brown skin.  She reminded Shin of  Shin's friend Jade from Marseilles.

“Z,” a girl who looked to be ten or eleven, brown hair, lighter brown skin, now that Shin had comparisons on her mind, the girl reminded her of various people she'd met in Polynesia.

“I'm Mike,” Mike said.

“As-salāmu ʿalayki” said a girl perhaps nine years old.  Orange hijab, white skin, made Shin think of New England.

Shin responded with, “Wa-alayki-salāmu.”

“My name is Isabella, you may call me Isa,” the girl said.

“Rob,” said a boy who was perhaps five years old while he looked at his feet.  He had dirty blond hair and white skin, he didn't make Shin think of anywhere in particular, which probably meant he reminded her of Middleton.

“Jacob's told us all about you,” Susan said.

“All bad things I'm sure,” Shin said.

“No, he told us how you helped him after the bad people beat him up,” Isa said.

Shin smiled, and Jacob's exasperated response of, “That was one time!” just made her smile grow wider.

“And how you saved Rhode Island toge--”

“We are not talking about this,” Jacob said firmly.  The only effect of the firmness was to produce giggles. “Shin, give them each an amulet.”

“The amulets that you left back at the museum?” Shin asked.

Jacob glared.

“Ok,” Shin said, and started to give them to the kids, “but don't we need them all?”

“We'll figure out how to set that bridge on fire when we come to it,” Jacob said.

“What did you mean, 'being erased'?” Susan asked Jacob.

“The world is gone,” Jacob said.  “Mags somehow saved you with all of this,” He gestured to the the floating metal, the nonstop lightning, everything around them, “but outside, there's nothing and no one left but the jerk who did it, Shin, and me.”

Susan seemed to take that in stride, “You're going to fix it,” she said, “right?”

“That's the plan,” Jacob said, “but first we have to deal with what's in front of us.”

Then he knelt in front of Mag.

“Mags.  Mags!  Mag.  Maggie,” Jacob said.  All to no response.  “Damn it Mags, they're safe now.  You can stop.”

Nothing changed.

“Mags, you have to stop.”

Fifteen minutes later Jacob asked Shin to talk privately for a moment.  Which meant being very close to the edge of the calm.  Which meant lightning passing disturbingly close to them.

“Your mother could use directed plasma to knock someone out without harming them,” Jacob said.  “Can you?”

Shin thought it over.  Normally, well, “Ordinarily it's no problem, but we have no idea how it would interact with her power.”

“I think that this thing is messing with time somehow,” Jacob said, indicating the entire storm, “it's not passing at different rates on a macro scale, but I've got no explanation for how the kids' dehydration isn't a lot worse, maybe deadly worse, except for 'weird temporal effect upon metabolism'.”

“That's a truly convincing sounding explanation,” Shin said.

“Yeah, it's the best I've got at the moment,” Jacob said.  “The problem is that while dehydration and malnutrition seem to be setting in slower than they ordinary would, they're still setting in.  And unlike the kids, Mags hasn't had a drop to drink since she went into this state.”

“You think she'll die if we don't do something,” Shin said.

Jacob had flinched at the word “die” and responded with only, “I think.”

* * *

“Don't touch her,” Jacob warned.

“You've told me a thousand times,” Shin responded.  That was impossible, they hadn't been here long enough for him to say it a thousand time.

“You're just getting really close,” Jacob said.

“It has to be close,” Shin said.  “Stop distracting me.”

Her finger lit with a ball of green about the size of a golfball.  Then ball passed into Mags' forehead.

Mags collapsed, Jacob caught her without thinking and was retroactively grateful for the fact that it didn't blast him through the air again.

Then he said, “Shin, roof.”

He didn't look up to see Shin using plasma to blast the no-longer-floating metal objects into trajectories which wouldn't intersect with the children, Jacob, Mags, or herself.  He was too busy checking Mag's breathing, she was, and her pulse, it was at the right pace, but extremely weak.

* * *

“Let's get out of this damned city,” had been Jacob's simple statement.  The reality proved more difficult.  With the exception of the area around Mag's lightning dome thing, Go City was still a real city and the draugar that populated it didn't take kindly to living people invading it.  Getting in had been hard enough.  Getting out with seven kids and one unconscious teen added to the group was much more difficult.

* * *

The kids loved the hover craft.  Susan was the only one who didn't immediately run over to touch it when it started floating.

“You like?” Jacob asked.

“I like,” Susan said.  “Especially the fins.”

“That's wonderful,” Shin said, “but have you considered how we're all going to get back there?”

“You think I should have picked a body with a longer bed,” Jacob said.

“I didn't say that,” Shin said.  “We're losing the light and you know what that means.”

“It'll take two trips and I don't trust your driving,” Jacob said, “so I'll do the back and forth.”

“And I'll stay with whoever waits for trip two,” Shin said.  “Leaving no one with the ones waiting on the other side.”

“You underestimate us,” Jacob said.  “Susan, you'll be in charge on the other end.  We buckle Mags into the passenger seat, Susan, Mike, Rob, and Pip, you're in back.”  Jacob turned to Shin, “That'll be about half and half but if you don't think you're up for it I could take--”

“Just go already,” Shin said.

* * *

“She won't wake up,” Pip said, looking at Mags.

Shin said, “She's only been asleep one night after being--”

“Sing the coyote song Jacob,” Pip said  said.

Rob, seemed to think that was a good idea because he said, “Yeah, Jacob, sing the coyote song to her,” which was was a sentence length he used once in a blue moon.

“Coyote song?” Shin asked.

Jacob forced himself not to smile.  Not to smile.  With Mags .  .  .  with Mags the way she was, he had to force himself not to smile.  In spite of everything, in spite of the the dead feeling inside, here was an opportunity to play around with Shin's head, and so a smile tried to come to his face.

He suppressed it, but not because he was avoiding the impulse that came with the urge to smile.
“You rich kids don't even know the stories of your own class,” he said.

“Since when are coyotes rich?” Shin asked.

“This one was,” Jacob said.

“A rich coyote?” Shin asked.  Jacob could tell that she knew something was up, but she hadn't figured it out yet.

“It was a Don,” Jacob said.

A look of understanding.  “Don Quixote,” Shin said with proper pronunciation, at least as well as Americans such as themselves were likely to get without serious study.

“Donkey?” Jacob asked.  “Who's talking about a donkey?”  He turned to the kids, “Though he was as stubborn as a mule.”

Any doubts about playing with Shin at a time like this were laid to rest when the kids, seven lost souls in a worse place than he'd ever been in, all giggled.  There were some things that he wouldn't give up for any price.  These were his people, and he'd never leave them in despair.  Giggles didn't have a price tag.

Shin, for her part, rolled her eyes.

“Ok, I'll sing the coyote song,” Jacob said to the children, “but I might need some help.”

Jacob knelt my the makeshift cot and took Mags' hand.  “The mission of each true knight, her duty, nay, her privilege:
To dream the impossible dream;
To fight the unbeatable foe;
To bear with unbearable sorrow;
To run where the brave dare not go.
* * *

Shin didn't have anything in particular against Jacob singing, it was just him doing it in general that bothered her.  As such, she was glad when he wrapped it up:
And the world will be better for this
That one girl scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with her last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star!
By then all seven of the kids had joined in, delightfully out of key but clearly finding happiness.  It seemed almost like a prayer to them.  Ritual.

Pip looked at Mag and seemed disappointed that she hadn't been awakened by the song.  Jacob simply put a hand on the girl's shoulder.

“She was awake for a long time,” Shin said, hoping to comfort the children, “she'll need to sleep for a long time before she's better.”

The logic could be followed by a child, and it made a kind of sense in a way that they'd find plausible, but in truth she had no idea when or if Mag would recover.

What Mag had done was impossible, at least for an ordinary human being.  Trying to understand what doing it with such intensity for so long would to to someone was an effort best left to philosophers and theoretical physicists who double majored in human biology.

It was like asking what would happen if Shin tapped out her plasma by using it for a week* on end.  No one knew.

[* or "weeks", I don't have the timeline perfected yet.]

* * *

“Hello?” came a confused voice over Shin's communicator.

“Uncle Wade,” Shin said.

“He doesn't know you, the uncle title was purely honorary anyway, and I told you it would still work,” Jacob said.  He wasn't sure whether he was more annoyed with Shin falling back on the assumption that people would know her when they obviously wouldn't or the fact that Shin had doubted that her communicator would work just because he'd taken it apart several times to temporarily use components in other things.

“Who are you?” Wade asked.

“I'm Jacob, she's Shin, we're from the future,” Jacob said.  “We are also currently located at ground zero with seven children and one unconscious person, so just give us the best bearings out of here, nerdlinger.”

* * *

The last thing Dr. Director needed were more teenagers who thought they knew better than the legitimate authorities.

Team Possible had been one thing.  When Possible had called the shots and Stoppable had followed her lead the team had been easy to work with, Dr. Director had used them as an asset more than once, and Global Justice had multiple studies attempting to determine just what those two children and the mole rat had somehow tapped into in hopes of duplicating it for themselves.

The new revised Team Possible was a different beast entirely.  The three new members all influenced Possible in a way that Stoppable never had, at times completely changing mission parameters.  With their addition Stoppable himself took a more active role in planning and direction.  The result was a team that was unpredictable and operating completely outside of the traditional hierarchy.

On that count Dr. Director knew that she was partially to blame.  When she hadn't authorized the rescue mission for Possible the result hadn't just been the rest of the team ignoring her authority, it had burned her bridges with Possible as well.

Now two more teenagers had shown up, seemingly out of nowhere, fought their way out of the enemy's strongest position, and naturally met up with Team Possible on the way.  The greatest danger was that their ability to do what shouldn't have been possible would give them the same sense of invincibility that the members of Team Possible had developed.

Dr. Director sighed and pushed the intercom button on her desk.  “Send the new ones in,” she said.

She estimated they were each about seventeen years old.  The boy wore an open suede jacket, a plain black shirt, and blue jeans.  His shoes were well worn, but showed no signs of failing.  They were the shoes of someone who didn't know when they'd next buy a new pair, needed to face all weather, and might find themselves sprinting, rock climbing, or trudging thirty eight miles in a single day.

While Dr. Director tried to be sure never to evaluate anyone based on skin color, and left it out of her considerations, the girls' skin stood out.  She'd seen that pale green before, but only in one person.  She quickly did some math in her head, and it didn't work out.  It was simply not possible for Shego to have a teenage daughter.  A younger sibling from Team Go that had been kept out of the spotlight because of how young she was when the comet struck?  An unreported witness to the event?

It would be impossible to tell.

Her hair and clothing suggested another possibility.  While the cargo pants were forest green, and the utility belt only somewhat lighter, they definitely resembled Possible's mission gear.  That, combined with the fact that the girl's hair mixed Shego's almost black green hair color with bangs that matched Possible's red hair, suggested she might just be some kind of a fan trying to mix Possible and Shego's styles.

The shirt was a purple halter top, no suggestion of Possible or Shego there, it bared some of the girl's belly, but not as much as Possible usually showed.  The shoes were a potential reason for concern.  Completely featureless and black, they made no sound when the girl stepped and set off warning bells of "professional" rather than "hobbyist" in Dr. Director's mind.

The girl represented too many unknowns.  Dr. Director looked her over again in hopes of finding some sign that her unnatural skin color was due to some kind of make up, but if it was it had been impressively evenly applied to all of her visible skin.

“Well, Bets,” the boy said, “you gonna say anything or just ogle Shin?” he pointed at the girl with a thumb.

If he was trying to break her composure, he'd be disappointed.  Suggestions of impropriety were what amateurs used to mentally push people off balance, and she'd heard her first name mangled far more badly than "Bets" she didn't grace him with a glare, but did turn her gaze to him and evenly asked, “Why did you violate the quarantine?”

“What quarantine?” the girl asked.  Dr. Director would wait for confirmation before assuming the name the boy had used was correct.  The girl was very good at feigning ignorance, if not for the fact that Dr. Director knew it was impossible to enter the area without intentionally bypassing all the checkpoints and security measures that had been set up, she would believe that the girl had been sincere in her question.

“I wasn't aware that we were a ship putting into harbor,” the boy said. “If you'da told us we had to wait forty days before disembarking we, by which I mean not me but maybe her, might have listened.”

Dr. Director was mildly annoyed that the boy thought so little of her as to assume she'd be impressed by philology --who really cared about the origin of the word "quarantine" when the security of the world was at stake-- but if this was the league the boy felt she was in then he should be easy to crack.

“That area is off limits for your protection,” she said.

“What area?” the girl asked.

“Yeah, what area?” the boy said.

Dr. Director said, “Playing dumb--”

“No, very seriously, we only got the cliff notes version before so we aren't exactly up to date on the state of the world at this particular moment in time,” the boy said.  “Exactly how much ground have you managed to lose since the first event?”

“Jacob,” the girl said.  The tone was chiding.

“I just want her to drop the exposition so we can get out of here,” the boy said.  “Let her be useless on her own.”

“Jacob!” the girl shouted.

“What?” the boy said.

“Apologize,” the girl said.

The boy turned to Dr. Director and said, “Look, I'm sorry if I seem to have a complete lack of respect for you, but we've just come from a future where you and yours were left in charge for the next quarter century and --spoiler alert-- it sucked!”

The girl said, “It was pretty bad,” in the tone of an admission.

“Your capacity for understatement knows no bounds,” the boy said. “Next you'll be calling World War II, 'a bit of a kerfuffle.'”

The girl said, “I've never even said 'kerfuffle'.”

“You have now,” the boy said, then smirked.

Watching the two play off each other Dr. Director wasn't sure whether she was seeing practiced artifice, or spontaneous statements.  There was no point in letting them go on.

“What are your names?” Dr. Director asked.  She was sick of thinking of them as the boy and the girl.

“Shin Alexis Possible,” The girl said.  Possible.  That would be a headache.

The boy said nothing.  Shin gestured at him.  When he continued to say nothing a glare was added to the gestures.

“What?” he asked Shin.

“Answer her.”

“Fine,” he said to Shin.  He met Dr. Director's eyes and said, “Jacob.”

Then nothing more.

“Jacob what?” Dr. Director asked.

“Just Jacob,” Jacob said.

“That is the only name he goes by,” Shin confirmed.

“So,” Dr. Director said, “you claim to be from the future.”

“Yes, a future where as near as we could tell humanity is an endangered species,” Jacob said in a tone usually reserved for documentaries and addressing school children, the rest of his sentence rapidly devolved into outrage, “but we don't know for sure because there were so few humans left alive we couldn't get a headcount!

“If it were anyone else I'd attribute the attitude to what he's been through and ask you not to hold it against him,” Shin said, “but he's always been like this.”

“It's good to know you've got my back,” Jacob said so flatly it could only be sarcasm.

“Any time,” was Shin's cheerful reply.

“Can you, in any way, support your outlandish claim,” Dr. Director asked.

“Can you prove that you actually have the authority to be running a paramilitary force on United States' soil while interrogating citizens without plausible cause?” Jacob asked.  It lacked the fire he'd had a few moments ago, and but neither was it as flat as his reply to Shin.  It was disinterested, and perhaps a bit weary.

“I have cause for this questioning,” Dr. Director said, “and I can prove that Global Justice has the authority to act here.”

“Well, maybe this can be a 'you show me yours' thing, then,” Jacob said.

“We have technology that doesn't exist yet,” Shin said, “and my genetics will show that Kim Possible is my mother.  Given our ages that should demonstrate that I'm not from this point in time.”

“I thought your family didn't like giving away genetics,” Jacob said.

“If that's the route they choose to take I'll be guarding them every step of the way,” Shin said.

Dr. Director knew that genetics wouldn't prove time travel, clones of Possible, albeit unstable ones lacking higher reasoning powers, had already been deployed, and if the Shin's skin color did come from Shego that made it all the more plausible that Shin had been cooked up in a lab.  Combining Possible and Shego had to be the dream of anyone who wanted a super-solider and hadn't let misogyny completely override their rational brain.  Still, Dr. Director wasn't going to say that.

If Shin really did contain Shego's genetics than Global Justice would very much like a sample from her.

“It wouldn't prove time travel anyway,” Jacob said, “since a hybrid clone would have the same genetics and growth acceleration exists.”

Dr. Director mentally cursed the boy, but didn't allow it to show.

“Ok,” Shin said, “forget the genetics.  Our technology--”

“You can't prove time travel to someone who doesn't want to believe that way,” Jacob said to Shin.  Then he turned his attention to Dr. Director, “But give me access to a lab and I can give you all the proof you need.”

“And what would that be?” Dr. Director asked.

“A time machine,” Jacob said.

“A time machine,” Dr. Director repeated in an even tone.

“Give me some decent tools,” Jacob said, “what passes for technology right now, and a bit of time and I'll--”

“I'm not convinced that you know anything,” Dr. Director said, “and I'm not putting sensitive equipment in the hands of a child.”  There were too many who already had access.

“See, she's useless,” Jacob said to Shin.

Shin, for her part, seemed outraged.  An assessment confirmed a moment later when she started shouting.  “Oh come on!  All he's asking for is some lab space and some time, it's not like he asked you to give him access to a pan-dimensional vortex inducer.”

For the first time one of them said something useful, but it wasn't good.  There was a leak somewhere, no one --outside of the workers in select labs-- was even supposed to know that the pan dimensional vortex inducer existed.

“How do you know about that?” Dr. Director asked.  Play time was over.  She needed answers now.

“Shin,” Jacob said, in the most friendly tone he'd used since he walked in, “it's not worth it.”

“This is Global Justice, they can help us,” Shin protested.

“You may know Gilgamesh, but apparently you don't know recent decades,” Jacob said.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Shin demanded.

“How did you learn the name 'pan dimensional vortex inducer'?” Dr. Director asked.

“You have no idea how backwards these people are,” Jacob said.

“Try me,” Shin said.

“How do you know...” Dr. Director stopped when she saw Shin's face fall as Jacob whispered something in her ear.

“You're kidding; tell me you're kidding,” Shin said to Jacob.

“Nope,” Jacob said.  “I'm kind of surprised you didn't know.”

Shin said nothing.

“I mean, your people, not mine, and all that,” Jacob said.

“You probably only know because you like to be armed with examples where legal doesn't equal right,” Shin snapped.

“Guilty,” Jacob said.

“But, I mean ... it can't be true, can it?” Shin asked.

“It is,” Jacob said.  After a pause he added, “Sorry, I should have used a less personal example,” in an apologetic tone.

Shin sighed.  She took a deep breath.  “Just one state?”

“And that one only started this year,” Jacob said.

Shin glared at Dr. Director in a way that almost shook Dr. Director to the point of breaking through her impassive exterior.  Almost.

“How do you live with yourself?” Shin asked.  The question seethed with rage and disgust, but at least the girl wasn't shouting.

“Can we go now?” Jacob asked the Shin.

“We can go,” Shin said.  As she walked out the door she gave a mirthless laugh and said, “Global Justice Alliance.”

Dr. Director hadn't given them authorization to leave.  They shouldn't have been allowed to.  She should have ordered them stopped and, if they resisted, continued the strange conversation in an interrogation room.  But she was sure that, whatever else might be true or false, the last part hadn't been an act.

What had that boy whispered to that girl to provoke such a response?

* * *

“Sorry again,” Jacob said.  “I didn't realize it would cut that deep.”

“I'm ok,” Shin said.  Jacob didn't respond.  “Really, I am ok.”

“That's good,” Jacob said, “nothing's going to go as well as we thought before so ... that's good.”

“It was just the shock,” Shin said.  “You hear about bad things in the past, and it feels so far away.  I just ... I never imagined that it had been...”

“Longer than we've been alive,” Jacob said, “by a fair stretch at that.”

“But still,” Shin said, “I'm not even a full person in this world.”

“Welcome to my world,” Jacob said.

“It's not the same,” Shin said, “this isn't another one of your class issues.”

“Here we go again,” Jacob said with a sigh.

Shin thought it over.  Jacob didn't seem to get it even though it was so clear to her.  Maybe ... Shin cut off that line of reasoning.  It was the same kind of othering bigotry that probably lead the people in this world to be the way they were.

“Let's just talk about something else,” Shin said.

“I second that motion,” Jacob said.

* * *

Anne Possible looked at the girl Kim and her friends had brought in.  Probably about Kim's age, but half a head shorter.  At first glance the small girl looked delicate, but while Anne was getting her situated in the cot in the possible tent she came across a plethora of signs that wasn't true.  Mostly callouses, and healed scars.  Anne thought that this girl might have weathered more than Kim herself.  Not the same sort though.  These weren't the bangs and bumps of an adventurer.

Even if it hadn't been for the girl's drab clothing that had clearly been worn so long as to lose its color, Anne knew poverty when she saw it.  Some of her peers might have knowledge an inch wide and a mile deep, but that had never been Anne's goal.  She was a fully qualified doctor in the usual sense of the word, not just a surgeon.  She'd seen children like this in her pro-bono work.

The kind of kids who wouldn't talk about where they'd come from, didn't give names, and ran at the sound of sirens.  Anne didn't want to think about what the girl might have had to do to survive.

She did anyway.

* * *

“How is she?”

“Is she gonna wake up now?”

“Will she die?”

That was what Anne could make out.  When seven children asked questions at once things could get difficult.  There was a reason that Anne had insisted that the unconscious girl's entourage wait outside of the girl's sleeping area.  Still, it was a tent, and even in a building with actual walls sound carried.

“You need to let her rest,” Anne said to the children.

“She's been resting for so long,” a girl said.

A boy said, “And before that she was ...”

“She's safe now,” Anne said, “and there's” how did one explain portable brain scanning technology that Anne herself didn't understand to these children? “stuff set up that will tell us more about what she's going through.”

* * *

“How did it go?” Jacob asked the five teens who apparently composed the new Team Possible.

“Your friend and the kids are at my tent,” Kim said, “and no, no law enforcement knows about them.”

“Thanks,” Jacob said, “I really appreciate it.”

“You're welcome,” the blonde girl said.

“Mind telling me why we had to do the cloak and dagger stuff and why she says she's my daughter?” Kim asked.

“In response to point one: yes, I do mind.  As for the second, because she is,” Jacob said. “Now I've never liked to be in the middle of family squabbles and I want to see my friend.”

With that he left; let Shin explain the details.

* * *

“Dr. Possible?” a young man asked.

“Yes?” Anne said.

“I'm Jacob,” he said, “I think that ... um ...”

It took Anne a moment, but she recognized the name, “You're Maggie's friend.”


“I've never seen anything quite like what's going on in her brain,” Anne said, “so I'm not sure exactly what condition she's in.”

“No hospitals.” Jacob said.  Anne expected that, but she had been planning to suggest a hospital anyway.  She nodded.

“I'll see what I can do about getting you a brain that works like hers, in healthy condition, to take a look at,” Jacob said.

“At the brain market?” Anne asked.

There was the slightest smile on Jacob's lips for a moment.  “It's not even close to verified, but I'm guessing that when people have powers like hers, they tend to make use of the same areas of the brain. Just like human echo-locators tend to use the visual bits and vibration sense is based in--”

“Auditory parts of the brain,” Anne finished.  “It's an interesting theory.  Know anyone with such powers?”

“Your pseudo granddaughter for one,” Jacob said.  That took Anne off guard.  What was a “pseudo granddaughter”?

“Your daughter didn't tell you?” Jacob asked.

“She said that you claimed to be from the future,” Anne said.

“Technically a future, and not the one this world is headed toward,” Jacob said, “but divergent timelines are a headache to explain in a hurry.”  He paused a moment, “In a world were everything that's gone wrong recently didn't go wrong, Shin and I and Maggie and the kids would eventually be born, and Shin would be your daughter's daughter.”

“So you're saying I have a granddaughter,” Anne said, “and that she came here with you?”

“Genetically, yes,” Jacob said, “but everything I've seen so far says that things have already changed too much for this timeline to merge back with the one we're from... did I lose you?”

“A little bit,” Anne admitted.

“Well, it's so unlikely as to be impossible that Shin will be born in a timeline this altered, so she's not really the granddaughter, if you have one, from your future.”

“I'm not sure how to feel about that,” Anne said.

“Probably a completely sensible response,” Jacob said.  The conversation lagged for a moment, then he asked, “May I see her?”

Anne led Jacob into Maggie's cot.  The boy looked at her IV bag and the improvised brain scanner briefly, then turned his attention to Maggie herself.  “Can she hear?”

It was a common question but far more complex than most people realized.  “She's not entirely unresponsive,” Anne said.

“That's an improvement,” Jacob said, “but you haven't answered the question.”

“Does she usually hear in her sleep?” Anne asked.

“Bits and pieces, yeah,” Jacob said.

“Remember that I've already told you--”

“That you've never seen anything quite like the state her brain is in,” Jacob said.  “I remember.”

“So, with that caveat,” Anne said, “she's probably no less likely to hear than she usually does in her sleep.  I think.”

“I understand that you're guessing,” Jacob said, “and will not hold it against you if that guess turns out be incorrect.”  After a very long pause he asked, “Could we have some time alone?”

* * *

Anne went to check on Maggie sure that this would, at least, be easier to face than the strange family dynamics introduced by Shin appearing.

As she approached she heard Jacob singing softly,
I came this far across the tracks
Ten miles above the limit,
and with no seatbelt,
and I'd do it again
“As a doctor,” Anne said, “I'd recommend against doing that again.”

“Didn't hear you come in,” Jacob said, he was sitting on the floor with his back against Maggie's bed.  “It's a song, as you may have guessed.”

“Dar Williams, Mortal City, track 3, 'Iowa',” Anne said.

“Your taste in music far surpasses your granddaughter's,” Jacob said.  “I tried to think of all the things I wanted to say to her, and I came up empty.” He closed his eyes a moment, “You missed a Beatles medley.”

“Do you sing a lot?” Anne asked.

“Once upon a time I lived in a world where ... ” Jacob trailed off.  When he resumed it was with emotional force he'd lacked before,  “Music was everything.  There were plenty of kids who'd rather starve than sell their music player, and even more who didn't have anything to play music on.

“It kept us grounded, kept us sane,” Jacob said.  “It could lift you up when you were laid low or bring you down when you were too high, it could calm you when you wanted nothing more than to scream.

“Your playlists were your personal gospels, and I didn't always have a charge,” Jacob said.  “So I started singing, to myself first, then to Mags and some others.”  Jacob sighed.  “I left that world behind, but I still visit on weekends and holidays and some of the younger kids like it when I sing, Mags says she still does too.”

Anne nodded.

She lowered herself to the ground and sat so she was level with Jacob.

“That song's about love,” Anne said.  “Do you love her?”

“A lot of songs are about love,” Jacob said, “and of course I do, she's my oldest friend.”

“Different kind of love,” Anne said.

“If you say so,” Jacob said. “Shin's the romantic, not me.”

Anne thought about that for a bit.  She honestly didn't know where she was going with the conversation.

“So you like sixties pop and nineties folk,” Anne said, then ran out of things to say.

“I like anything that's good, but for some reason what's good has had a habit of drifting away from what's popular for more than fifty years,” Jacob said. “Wait, no, um, more in the vicinity of ... I'm not sure which way to round.”  Jacob seemed to think for a bit, and then concluded, “Time travel is a headache.”

“I believe you,” Anne said.  Time travel was definitely making a mess in her family right now. “So, what made pick 'Iowa'?”

“We have a friend--” Jacob stopped.  “We had a friend, Caitlin, and 'Iowa' was really life affirming for her.  She hadn't been in love with anyone, but when she'd heard the song, god only knows how she came across it, the whole 'great and gruesome height' thing really resonated.  The fact that it was about a lesbian love interest probably played a role too, but it was the jump that mattered most.

“Everyone says 'Be yourself' like it's easy, but she knew that for her it would be dangerous and there would be no going back.  Telling her parents she was a lesbian, that was her great and gruesome height.  She came out, they kicked her out, and that's how she became one of us.

“'Iowa' was always on the playlist when Caitlin was around and Mags and I have a lot of good memories with that song as the soundtrack.”

Anne nodded.

* * *

Shin was trying to calmly eat dinner but Jacob was apparently leading a sing along in Mag's room.  Most of the words were mercifully too soft to hear, but every time the chorus came around the kids joined in and she heard
This wheel's on fire
Rolling down the road.
Just notify my next of kin
If we should explode.
* * *
-- -- --

This is the problem with writing stuff out of order, now that I've had Anne and Jacob have a conversation the first time she heard him singing this doesn't fit anymore:

-- -- --

* * *

Anne headed to check on her secret patient, it came as no surprise that she heard the sound of singing as she approached the room.  She didn't recognize the song, though.
It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right no wrong no rules for me
I'm free!
Anne waited for Jacob to finish singing and tried to place the song.

When he finished with:
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway
Anne said, “I don't know that one.”

Jacob looked up at her.  She was never quite prepared for the pain in his eyes.  Kim's recent coma was still too near to her, if there weren't such a need for doctors she'd have taken leave until she became more emotionally prepared to face those with loved ones in similar situations.

“You wouldn't,” Jacob said; “It hasn't been written yet.”  He laughed, but it was a laugh totally devoid of mirth.  “It's younger than I am.”

“I thought your tastes ran toward older things,” Anne said.

“When I grew up my primary source of music was overhearing store radios that had a habit of being on 'latter half of the twentieth century' stations,” Jacob said.  “It left an impression on me, but this one was different, I don't know it from a radio or internet broadcast or anything like that.”

“No?” Anne asked, trying to be a gently leading as she could.  This was the most the boy had said that didn't involve his fear of her patient being experimented on or generalities about the state of the world.  If he was looking to open up she wanted to be sure that she gave him the chance.

“The first project that Mags and I ever finished together was cobbling together a disk player and projector that was portable and could run off of a charge she provided.  The first disk we played was a movie, that movie, from twenty thirteen if you're wondering, featured the song as it's centerpiece.

“In spite of some huge problems, it was a good film.  Well, would have been.  Tenses and all that,” Jacob sighed.  “Your granddaughter, those kids, she and I are all that's left.  It's only in our memories now.”

Jacob looked at the floor, but after a moment he looked back up at Anne, “If we can't restore the primary timeline then your granddaughter's flac player,” he must have noticed that Anne didn't recognize the term because he amended to, “her music player may prove to be the most valuable artifact ever.”

“Oh?” Anne asked.

“We can all mourn about the lost works of history, but what else can boast having works that never existed?  Records from the future that once was and could have been, but is no longer.”

“You're worried you won't make it back,” Anne ventured.

Jacob shrugged. “Be stuck with you people for the next twenty five to life?” He made it sound like a prison term. “Of course I'm worried, but I worry about a lot of things.  Don't worry about it.”

Anne did worry, though.  He was just a child.  So was her patient, to whom she returned her attention. “Has anything happened that I should know about as her doctor?”

[Also I think I've used mirthless laughs too much, maybe.]

* * *


It took a moment to register, then Jacob shot off the floor into a standing position.  Well, he tried to.  He ended up losing his balance and falling back to the floor halfway through.  He ended up on his knees at the side of her bed, “Mags,” and he couldn't figure out which words to say because so many flooded his mind.

“It's been how many years and you still don't know the right words to 'Runaway Train'?” Mags said.

“Maybe my version is better,” Jacob said.

“Maybe,” Mags said and closed her eyes. “What happened?” she asked with her eyes still closed.

“History changed, the world ended,” Jacob said.  After a pause he added, “You did the impossible, saved some of the kids and, to a lesser extent, yourself from being erased.”

“How many?” Mags asked.

“More than there would have been without you,” Jacob said.

“How many, Jacob?” Mags asked.

“Seven,” Jacob said.

Mags said, “Oh God, there were--”

“Susan, Eric, Z, Pip, Mike, Isa, and Rob,” Jacob said.  “They're only alive because of you.”


“No, no 'but'; not this time Mags,” Jacob said.  “The entire world ended and that they survived is only because of you.”

“You survived,” Mags said.

“I was at the ritual that changed things, it gave Shin and me a measure of protection, protection no one anywhere else had,” Jacob said.  “Focus on Susan, Eric, Z, Pip, Mike, Isa, and Rob.”

“You said, 'Shin',” Mags said.  “The hero?”

“Yeah, the hero,” Jacob said.  “I should get your doctor.” Mags' reaction was to be expected. “Don't worry, she's cool.”

“You trust her?” Mags asked.

“With my life?  In a heartbeat,” Jacob said.  “With your life I'm more cautious.  I've been checking in constantly.”

* * *
-- -- --

And that's enough for now.  The stuff where she's actually an active participant will really need the other characters stories to that point gone over to make sense.

I was always going to have Jacob singing a lot in this (which really annoys Shin for reasons she has difficulty putting into words) and I didn't really know why, but then --while I was writing this-- I came across articles about Jill Woelfer's work studying homeless teens and music, and that sort of changed everything.

The articles I found tended to be a couple years old, but they were pretty fucking moving.

As might be obvious (I did stick a note there and all), Anne walking in on Jacob singing 'Let it go' from Frozen was written well before the rest of it.

Random other notes: I hate describing people.  Mags' full name is "Maggie Petunia Netic". Why?  Kim Possible level punning.  Recall that to most people her first name is "Mag" and be aware that she doesn't use her middle name.

Oh, the conversation with future-girl was done in vague outline, at least twice, in comments.

I feel like there's something I'm leaving out.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Video Game Proposal: Elephant in the dark

First, let me talk a bit about the only remotely similar game I've heard of.

I was disappointed with the way Pulse handled blindness.  In the game you play a formerly sighted girl who, in spite of losing her sight at an early age, thinks about the environment in entirely visual ways.  That doesn't bother me.  In spite of my total inability to actually visualize, I know that if I were ever to lose my sight I'd end up using the information I could piece together about my environment to create a pseudo-visual map.

In spite of being unable to create images myself in my head I interact with the world in an extremely visual way and have developed a sort of pseudo visualization that's not actually visualization but more like a a half remembered detail light after-image (and that's when it works well.)  This because, while I think almost entirely in audio (I have a constant internal monolog) visual is what I depend on to understand and interact with the world.

So I have no problem with a formerly sighted blind person trying to construct a visual image of the world around them in their mind.  If I were to go blind that's exactly what I would do (badly) because that's what I would need.  It's what I do in total darkness already.

The problem I have with Pulse is that she when she contstruct a model of the world in her imagination (which tends to be quite colorful because sound gives no color information so she's free to pain the world she "sees" in whatever colors she wants) it's completely accurate.

If she can send a pulse of sound (hence game name) into an area she will know exactly what that area looks like.  Human echolocators exist.  They use the visual part of the brain to process the information, so if it is possible for a formerly sighted person to change over to that (I have no idea) it makes sense that they're interpret the information visually.

I don't buy the idea that bouncing one sound off of the area can give her a perfect interpretation down to the leaves on the plants.

But, also, I was disappointed with the missed opportunities for trying to construct a visual world from limited information.  Which brings us to Elephant in the Dark.


The story of the Elephant is old enough that no one is completely sure where it came from.  It usually involves blind men, but honestly I really, really don't buy that people who have been blind enough to be used to blindness would make the kinds of fuck ups the men in the story do, so I favor the the stories where sighted people encounter and elephant they can't see.

Anyway, the story goes that the people touched the elephant in different places and came to different conclusions about what an elephant is based upon where they touched.  So many versions means we reach a lot of conclusions:

Trunk means elephant is like a tree branch or snake or water spout
Tusk means elephant is like a pipe or spear or plowshare
Head means elephant is like a pot
Ear means elephant is like a hand fan or winnowing basket or husking basket
Leg means elephant is like a pillar or tree trunk
Belly means elephant is like a wall or a granary
Back means elephant is like mortar (as in "brick and") or a throne
Tail means elephant is like a rope or pestle (as in "mortar and")
Tip of tail means elephant is like a brush

While human echolocation is fucking amazing, I kind of thing that someone trying to make sense of the world via tactile means presents a more interesting dynamic.  Someone who feels a flat wall doesn't know how long it goes on for, and unless they touch a door itself, they have no reason to assume the wall has a door in it.

I can imagine a game where someone, especially someone with no experience (a sighted person in the dark or a recently blinded person), is trying to make sense with the limited information available to them and the visual game-world (as opposed to the underlying geometry) is constructed based on the person trying to extrapolate from what they know.  Feel a flat wall, and until you have constraints, assume it goes on forever.

Feel only part of something and risk visualizing completely the wrong thing.

A game where the elephant problem is endemic unless the player takes the time to make sure they're feeling the whole of the object.

I think I'd like to play that game, or at least give it a shot.

Also, I definitely wouldn't eliminate sound as a source of world image input entirely.  Especially since hearing something (drip of water, footsteps) directly doesn't require the person to be an echolocator to get an approximate location.

And I was kind of disappointed that Pulse, in which the player character is explicitly imagining the world around her, didn't have any major flights of imagination in the unknown areas.  They were often filled with ominous looking eyes, but little girls can imagine a lot more than that.  Where were the imagined dragons and unicorns to fill in the blank spaces on the map (here there be monsters)?