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A Peculiar Plant
"Let's take a break from story time and dive a little deeper into something real. I don't feel comfortable promoting psychedelics without also promoting responsibility.Cannabis is becoming more popular, and more accessible than ever, and this is a great thing for a great many people. We still have a long way to go, but the hippies passed my generation the torch and we're blazing trails. There's a lot of people left behind, a lot of damage to whole communities that need to be addressed before we can claim victory, but we're making huge leaps in the right direction all across the country. That also means we have a lot more stoners, and a lot more nervous, anxious smokers who don't have a guide. It doesn't help anyone to get high alone, get scared or confused, and walk away with a bad experience, but once you're out of college and living on your own, it can be a lot harder to find a level minded group to teach you the ropes. I'd like to teach people that there is a skill to getting high, using your high productively, and turning cannabis into as much of a tool as a hobby.
So lesson one is the ""Roller Coasters and Cars"". The first few times you get high, it feels like your brain hops on a roller coaster and you are rocketing off on a ride. You try to hold on, but your mind is racing all over the place and the high is taking you places. Hopefully some friends are with you to remind you that you'll pull back into the station when it's done, but you walk away dizzy and exhilarated. Over time, if you continue to indulge, the high changes drastically as you develop a tolerance. Your brain learns to adapt to being high, and figures out ways to tamper down some of the perceived effects. This is how medicinal users can smoke every day without being too high to function, they maintain high enough tolerances that the more psychoactive effects are lessened. But it's very easy to feel this change in your high and respond to it the wrong way. If you chase bigger doses and more frequent sessions trying to get that ""first-time"" high back, you won't. This is the trap that catches far too many people, and leaves them smoking copious amounts wondering why they aren't having any more fun with it. You might think I'm going to tell you to smoke less, and maybe you should, but this time around I'm going to teach you to reclaim your high, even if you have a big tolerance. The trick to understand is that the high isn't a roller coaster. It's more like a car with the accelerator pressed down. You're going somewhere no matter what, but you have more control than you think. Your early highs, it's like you don't have your hands on the wheel, you veer off the roads, make crazy turns all over the place, and feel like you're out of control. But when your tolerance builds, you being to grip the wheel, resist the wilder turns, and you instinctively try to stick close to the lines on the road. And if you keep driving the same familiar paths, sitting in front of the computer or TV watching the same shows and playing the same games, you're going to keep having the same highs and ending up in the same places. But you don't have to. Understand that your high is under your control, and you can turn that wheel. Want to have an artistic high? Don't sit around waiting to feel artistic, start being artistic and let the high enrich the experience. Want to be productive? Don't wait for the high to give you energy, get started on your project and let the high help. Turning the wheel takes more effort, but you'll enjoy where you go. Your highs will feel fresher, more fulfilling, and at the end of them you'll feel content about how you've turned a fun thing into a useful tool.
Keep revving that engine, but start considering how you hold your wheel."
A Rare Encounter Part 1
The kraken escaped the crew, and with the horrendous storm that accompanied it the captain wasn't convinced there was any good footage. He could already hear the mocking voices waiting for him at Sunders Point, "Captain Bragsley, back again with tucked tail and more hot air about the beast!" Those buffoons wouldn't see the devil if he introduced himself as Lucifer! Still, to have just a bit of hard proof would sooth the burns of a life spent ridiculed. "Should I set up a camera tonight, captain?" a ship hand asked. "It's been 4 days, I don't have a feeling she's close by anymore."With a sigh, Bragsley ran the numbers in his head. They had enough raw film to keep running camera until they made it to port, but what good is hours of footage of the waves? "Perhaps you're right, Mariah. Let's give the eyes a break tonight, and save ourselves the disappointment." She nodded in agreement, but something in her eyes told him she was hoping for him to.. have hope? All the nights spent convincing the crew with tall tales and taller drinks to join him echoed in his ears as the all to familiar sting of resignation settled in.Hours passed without notice, staring at an empty, dark sea. Bragsley began to daydream, as he often did, about all the wondrous, monstrous, and mystical creatures that must be hiding just under the surface. He imagined leviathans with huge tails that created the currents as they swam through the deep. He envisioned shining tentacles dangling from some unfathomable squid. He could almost see it's appendages trailing along behind it. Then, suddenly, the creature halted and scurried off in another direction. Realizing his eyes weren't deceiving him, he bellowed "Mariah, Thomas, Jun Pak! MAN ALL THE EYES! We've found something, crew, and we aren't letting it get away this time!"
A Rare Encounter Part 2
For two days, they followed the creature. The crew had taken to calling her Petra, Bragsley had heard it reminded them of some TV character. He didn't get the reference, but he liked the name well enough. What curiosity she had in the vessel quickly faded, and it was clear she knew she was being chased. Bragsley's tracking experience was put to the test, but her bright neon glow made it hard for her to get out of sight. How could he be the first to see such a creature? If she were this luminous all the time, surely she would've been spotted before. If she could turn it off, why hasn't she? He tried not to let his mind worry too much about those answers, but the overwhelming curiosity sparked every fiber of his being. This was the chase that he was meant to have, the kraken was nothing but a distraction all these years!It was early into the third evening that Petra's motivation came swimming into view. "There's another one, captain!" Jun Pak reported from the scanner station. Sure enough, through the lens Bragsley saw Petra swimming full tilt towards another glowing creature. Its colors were different, but still brilliant. For the first time ever, the microphones picked up sounds. "Hold back, give them a little space" Bragsley commanded, "No need to walk into a trap." The two creatures met, entangled tentacles, and shared in a duet of haunting moans like a alto choir of orcas. Their colors shone with even more intensity as they twirled around each other. The crew was enraptured watching this reunion, none daring to speak up to ask for directions. Slowly it dawned on Bragsley, this was why Petra was always glowing. She was looking for.. whoever this other one was. Partner? Parent? Who knew. Petra had been searching, much like Bragsley, and now both had found the treasure they sought. The creatures paused their embrace to turn towards the ship. Their inky black eyes locked on, and crew members shifted nervously in their seats. Then, without sound or warning, Petra and her companion went dark. The night sea returned to murky darkness, the serenade of the creatures ended, and within minutes they'd both slipped every sensor on board.While the crew celebrated a successful journey and made way back to port, Bragsley began to ponder the real value of the discovery. Sure, his footage would bring him some fame and some money, and probably secure any future voyage he wants to go on. But he couldn't escape the thought that Petra wouldn't be found on accident again. The pair had vanished so quickly, the captain wondered if Petra had been running after all. Had she wanted him to give chase, were her sloppy attempts to hide just bait? But why? And after all that, why just disappear? Did she feel she'd shared whatever she was trying to share with Bragsley and his crew? Did she even recognize them as passengers on the ship? Or was she luring a strange metal whale to show her friend before skittering off to play? For all he had seen, he was no closer to understanding the mystery of the deep. But for the first time in a long, long time, that was the most exciting feeling he could imagine.
The field of robotics is exploding, here in 2019. Precision manufacturing, materials science, mechanical engineering and machine learning are all coming together to create creatures getting stunningly close to what we would think of as an android. We have robots that can run and jump without falling over (most of the time), a whole fleet of warehouse and production robots with arms, wheels, and even rotor blades to move matter around. Our cars are on the verge of driving themselves, and our most complicated computers are learning to detect illness and cancer long before most human observers. But while the world looks like it's in the opening phases of the robotic revolution, we still get some peculiar headlines. This week, some researchers at Google let us know that their very exciting medical imaging AI just told them with 100% confidence that a picture of a cat was actually guacamole. There's more to the story of course, but it's a good reminder that we have to build our tools to teach us how to find answers, not to blindly trust them just because they are more accurate than we are.
Despite what the newspapers tell you, I don't fly. And I definitely don't teleport. I just.. move. When I hold the artifact, I go where ever it points, and that's just that. I don't jump, I don't have invisible wings, I don't unlock an inner chakra, I just go. I don't even really get momentum. Everything feels like I'm standing still to me, but I move anyways. It was weird at first, but at this point I can manage it instinctively. It's very convenient, but I still have to put up with the weather and the environment. Flying up with the planes sounds cool until you're shivering and breathless, and NASA said they'd be happy to take the artifact up into orbit, but not in my hands. So mostly, I just use it to get around. I try to be helpful with it when I can, I recognize that it's easier for me to get around that most. But I'm not super powered, I don't have incredible strength or telekinesis. If I grab a car and try to move with the artifact, my arm will tear off before the car goes anywhere. Anyways, other than when a documentary crew or research team comes poking around, it's become kinda mundane for me. Just a normal part of life, floating along where I point. Until last Friday, when I did something I didn't even know I could do. Instead of pointing in a direction in space, I accidentally pointed a direction in time. Backwards, and not too far, thankfully. I had been floating along a sidewalk, and saw a child walking with a slow, painful gait. I pointed towards him to approach, in case he needed some help, but he turned right at me with a strange look in his eyes. And suddenly, I was in back in the restaurant I'd been in last Tuesday. Having the same exact meal, with the same waitress and customers around, it WAS Tuesday. I knew the kid had something to do with it. I tried my best to repeat the week in exactly the same way I had before, to give myself the best chance of running into the same kid. It was eerie living through a few days of the most detailed deja-vu ever, but it worked. I saw the kid, and this time I shouted "Hey. Do you know me?" The kid smiled, with eyes that seemed perfectly normal. "At times, I do, yes. You've found me once more, but which time is this for you? Do you know me?" "I think you did something to me.. before. Well.. I mean. I saw you, and then I went.. I don't know. I went back in time?" The kid laughed "I see, you have the tool, but you still aren't the you that understands it yet. I can't help you much with that, but I've seen you work wonders with it, in other times that I suppose have yet to happen. Don't worry, those sorts of fates are inevitable, you'll find your way there without me spoiling it all for you." It was hard to take it all in. The kid didn't seem much to care how well I understood what he was getting at. "Did you send me back in time?" "No" the child replied, "your tool did that. I just opened a window for you to point it through. That's what my tool does." It began to click. I'd pointed the artifact, the "tool", through a portal in time, and it did what it always does. It moved me where I pointed. And this kid had a tool too, that twisted time up like that. "If you have a tool like my artifact, why haven't I heard of you? I get written up in newspapers a few times a year, 'Man Who Can Fly' and all that. Why are you lucky enough not to be known? Is it your age? They can't bug you without mom and pop saying OK?" "My parents' journey ended hundreds of years ago. This body stays young, but age is of little meaning to someone with my tool. With that age has come the wisdom to stay out of the spotlight when I can avoid it. Besides, my tool is much more subtle than one that lets a man float along like a sorcerer." I pondered for a moment, "Why'd you send me back? That was a little rude." "I'm sorry, but it was necessary to prove to you that there's more to your tool than you understand. The time is quickly approaching for you when the ways you wield your tool will decide fates larger than you can envision, and beyond those points, even I cannot guess as to what will occur. The Holders and I have discussed the brewing storms, and we feel that our best hope lies in preparing you for what's to come." "Me? That important? We're all in for a rough one then, aren't we?" I said, not joking near as much as I had hoped. "We are. Now, follow me. I don't say this lightly, but time is of the essence."
Maybe the anchor's chain started rusting a while ago, but it's not until it breaks that you really, truly know the violent, salty waves and psychotic bitter winds that take you far away from familiar shores again. Sandcastles forsaken, beauty built but left to crumble. Rising tides can surprise and make the tallest towers tumble. Open waters burn the hottest within an open heart, and the swells will tempt your vessel to splinter apart. No good to lay out sail when the wind is wielding knives,
and the thunder fills your ears while lightning fills the skies.
Even if you hold on tight until you get to see the stars, you'll be smiling from in between some freshly healing scars. And if you keep from wincing and hold on to your smile, it will start to fit back on your face in a while. It will always hurt a little, but it won't always hurt this much. It won't always bleed, but it will be tender to the touch. Cupid's stitches on your heart is a testament of the time you opened up and proved you can find love. So for now furl sails, but don't scuttle the ship, this wild weather is just the start of your next big trip.
You should play in a band. It doesn't have to be a good band, and it definitely doesn't need to be a popular one. But it should be a band that enjoys playing together. If you entertain other people along the way, that's great, but you should do this for your future, dead self. When we finish this life, before we move to the next thing, we get to spend some time reviewing our time here. But all the curtains are peeled away, and you're no longer bound to the limited perceptions you had in life. You get to know the answers to all the questions, you and you get to see your life in full context. It's a bewildering experience, and a deeply rewarding one, but something special happens when you review the parts of your life where you interact with others. You get to see and feel and understand the whole interaction from their perspective as well as your own. You get to fully comprehend everything they carried with them into it, and how they felt afterwards as vividly as if you'd experienced it yourself. You get to laugh twice at a good joke. You get to feel all of the pleasure you've shared with a lover. And if you heed my advice, you'll get to play every part in a band. That's pure magic. You get to feel the groove develop from every participant at once, and when you take it all in, the overlapping thoughts and focus of the band members coalesces into something greater. A temporary shared meta-consciousness, a band mind. It's a construction that humans can create, but only barely perceive. When you feel the guitar catch the hint from the drummer that the vocals are about to twist in a new way, and the whole ensemble moves as one, that's the band mind manifesting its will. During your post-life review, when you take in the perspective of the band mind, you get to hear all the music you played in a new way, and these become the life experiences you share with others in the place that comes next. Everyone gets experiences, some people get there with wonderful catalogs of films or shows, others have hilarious stories about the peculiarities of life, some have incredible views of beautiful vistas they've traveled too, and all of these are treasured. There is something unique and novel about each band mind, so even two bands playing the same song create different experiences to collect. There is a powerful feeling of pride when you recognize the value of the experiences you've brought, they are the building blocks of the post-life culture. And it's even better when that value comes from the good times you've had with good friends. This is the eternal richness that the wise seek, and a band is an investment account. So go, join a band, make some music, and don't worry about what it costs in this life. Get proper rich, and have fun doing it.
As you shift between worlds, one of the first things you need to establish is the tech level of the new environment. Almost universally, they will be envious of your technology and conspire to take it from you, but whether they try to do so with sharp sticks or phase beams makes a big difference when planning your protection. You can't just walk up to a local and start asking if they've figured out atomic power yet, you need to look for the clues. Transportation, Food, and Hygiene. Generally, the more effort an individual has to devote to those three pursuits, the less technologically developed the civilization is. But keep in mind that circumstances can distort the usual progression in wild ways. A planet with an abundance of comfortable, riding beasts may be slow getting around to building motors. A large planet's gravity will prohibit traditional methods of flight. If the rocks are edible, or the people lack a sense of taste, the populace may not develop advanced cooking. But if there's even a hint of vanity in the culture, hone in on the hygiene routine for a good grip. Running water (or sand, or whatever) requires basic civil engineering. Finer metal and plastic tools require more advanced industry. Battery powered anything is a good sign of electrical mastery. The wildest was the unexpectedly advanced tradition of the Nepparians. In lieu of brushes, blades, and washcloths, the entirety of their beauty products came in a small box to be left near the bed at night. In the box, a whole army of microbots equipped with everything needed to take care of grooming. Once the bots detected that you'd fallen asleep, they swarm out of the box and get to work. Trimming micrometers of hair, cleaning individual pores, and painting an elegant, efficient mask of makeup when they finished. At the time of my visit, microcomputers were still just on the cutting edge, but this anachronistic routine had been established in the culture for thousands of years. Looking further into it, I discovered that the microbots were a modernized replacement for actual insects that used to be relied on. Half a century before my arrival, a plague swept across the planet and threatened the beauty bugs. While a few closely guarded, limited populations of the bugs were preserved and there are efforts to repopulate them, the alternative solution of making artificial insects has already obsoleted their function. When the Nepparians were faced with a lack of beauty, the leapfrogged an entire technological keystone in order to keep looking attractive!
Perched up high, or hiding low, Harley keeps a watch, and when the puppies rile up, she takes them down a notch. She rushes in, hackles raised to play the referee, though she's small, she stands tall when dogs get too rowdy. She might let you pet her, for only a stroke or two, unless you sleep, when she'll climb up, and sleep on top of you.
Her best friend's name is Ollie, an all grey sweetie pie, who likes to spend her days sunbathing, then out to hunt at night. When you walk towards her, she'll turn for belly rubs, and fill the air with purrs to let you know she's full of love. Ollie's mother couldn't care for her, but Harley took her in, even found a way to nurse her, and raise her as a friend. Now they claim domain over all my studio, when you come to visit next, please be sure to say hello.
I delved into a creepy cave, looking for enchanted loot. With my potions and my mace, and a freshly tailored mining suit. I had no trouble with the lurking spiders or the creeping slimes, the few who dared to challenge me were bashed into the grime. It wasn't 'till the seventh floor, I began to hear the whispers and saw the shadows twist at the tugs of ethereal drifters. Time has treat these tortured souls to tedium and toil as they wander aimless in the dark, deep down below the soil. My presence here has spooked them, they want to return the favor My terror and my anguish are the flavors that they savor, but I came prepared tonight with a holy water tonic and some earplugs made of dwarven wax to drown out all the sonic shrieking and the moaning as I cast a scroll of holy light. But it sputters and corrupts, wait, something isn't right! Maybe I mispronounced a rune, or skipped over a word but it's hard to describe the arcane disaster that occurred. The spirits, flush with power began to twist reality, building spaces and sinister spires out of their insanity. I fell, I panicked and I scurried, lost down in the dark, and spent hours or maybe days down there before I saw a spark of midnight stars up in the sky, through an opening below, so I hopped down in and popped back up. How? I still don't know. But there I was where I had started, the entrance to the cave. This time it was different, I was no longer feeling very brave. I journeyed home and found my bed to get some rest, but the nightmares that I have now make me wonder if I ever left.
Out in the fringe, there's not a whole lot of reason to actually travel to see someone face to face. Drones could transport goods faster when there wasn't any flesh on board, and signals travelled at light speed. Broadcasts and communication channels, along with decent vir gear made most social interaction a thing of distance. But no amount of vir decorations could quite replace the feeling of being in a group of people celebrating. As such, celebrations became the de facto way to bring fringers together. Even when important in-person business must be conducted, it's always prefaced with a party, carnival, festival, or bonanza. Inventing new reasons to celebrate spurred on a unique niche of performers, artists and daredevils that collected a wage to practice some seemingly impossible feat, simply so a celebration can be called for when they succeed. Rumor has it the launch of Syn Corp was delayed almost two months while their agent broke his leg while crossing a local mountain on pogo stilts.
As a chaos bender, I have certain insight, about how things find new beauty, under different light. It can be a little strange, letting go of preconceptions, but I prefer where I wind up when I'm open to new directions. It used to make me worry, I'd try to make a guess, and get distracted chasing after the outcomes I'd expect. But now before I render a final resolution, I give each design some time to show off some new solutions. I abandon expectations, I snap pictures of permutations that show me secrets I could never grasp with hesitation. If you judged me by the versions I have stored on my hard drive, you'd see all the carcasses I use to bring my art to life. Don't mourn those lost creations, don't call it sacrifice. It's not loss, it's learning, and I'm always open to advice. And I like to share it, so listen if this is ringing true, if you're facing down some changes, this one's about you too. It's OK to roll the dice, it's OK to rearrange. It's OK to find yourself by submersing in the strange. Watching what floats back up, and what just melts away. Rebuilding your foundations, and deciding to have a say, in the kind of thing you turn into, the kind of thing you'll be. Whatever that is, have faith, you'll still be a friend to me.
Check it out, I'm flipping words and twisting verbs again.
New arrays of letter play, call it verbal repurposin'.
Ordered to stay at home and hoping to put my mind to order,
I've got waves of inspiration spilling over every border.
What's a garden but dirt aligned, until the seeds are sown?
I'm abusing tools, but so far there is little to be shown.
One day I hope you'll get to visit with wonder in your eyes.
but I'd be wise to hold my tongue, and not spoil the surprise.
In fact, may I distract your attention from that tease,
I've got another secret begging to be let out, if you please.
Perhaps you've drawn from my deck while smoke wafted in the room?
Well, I've got a new SKU that I hope to show off soon.
Meant for a group of anybody hoping for a little fun.
A guessing game for playful brains, there's science to be done!
Wacky lab nerds, fancy machines, and mysterious experiments,
based on the data available, just what did we invent?
I know the local tabletops aren't all that populated,
so a game for virtual hands might be more appreciated.
While I work on simulating scores of shuffling cards,
I've had more projects on the deck, the list is kinda large.
My storefront has no front, and the back is mostly closed,
a global outbreak isn't a good time to sell you clothes.
But some of you are getting stimulated and want to share,
and quarantine is easier when your walls don't look so bare.
All of these are dreams, targets for my own ambitions,
but not a one won't go on pause to tailor to commissions.
So when a big one popped up, of course I took a look,
and I took a shot to be that not by which you judge a book.
I doodled for a medicine man on a journey of education,
and one day soon I'll show you the fruits of that collaboration.
This explanation to you is perhaps a little bit overdue,
but as you can see, I've still got quite a lot left to do.
Forgive the intermittent signal while I tinker underground,
but I promise once my stage is set, you're gonna love my sound.
Bale thought it was a hazing ritual. A joke of some sort, played by upper management to tease the new staff about their new responsibilities. "You will keep this on you at all times. You will report to room 25-C if it ever activates. No assignment or duty takes priority over responding." All super serious, almost comically so. He wasn't to keen on being the new recruit who falls for it, but like any good intelligence worker he played along to see what he could learn. He took the security fob and carried it on his keychain, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But there was no follow-up. In the three years Bale had been at the agency, enough real-world intrigue had crossed his desk to dissolve his vigilance in the matter. Whatever prank it had been a part of had failed, or misfired, or was aborted, and he was left with an unspent remainder. Even the agents who gave it to him had moved on to other things, or at least Bale hadn't seen them around in a while. Whenever he'd think about removing the token and resigning it to a drawer somewhere, he'd recall the whole rigmarole and chuckle to himself about playing along just a bit longer. At this point, it was such a mainstay on his ever evolving keychain full of fobs, tokens, and other security badges, that it gave him a strange sense of comfort. When it started vibrating, on a windy Thursday that was otherwise hard to distinguish from the rest of the week, Bale's first thought was "Wow, the batteries still work!" That was the last stress-free thought Bale would ever get to have, unfortunately."Juila, it's Bale. Listen, a long time ago when I started here I was given a security fob with TMA inscribed on it. Do you have one of these?""TMA? No, I don't have any TMA fobs. Who's TMA?" Julia responded. She'd been a mentor to Bale, having arrived at the agency a few years ahead of him. She spoke with a measured caution that came from experience in the profession of keeping secrets."Honestly? I don't even remember now. It was like my first week in the office, so many logos and acronyms to pick up.""Do you remember any protocol for it?""Yeah, go to room twenty-""Bale! Need to know!""Sorry. But yes, there's a location to go if it activates.""And?""It just activated. Three years of nothing, I thought it was dead.""So you know the protocol, and you've just met the trigger. Are you calling me to ask if you should follow protocol?"Her no-nonsense rebuke was no surprise, but it shook Bale. Her talking about it like standard protocol gave him perspective. This was a protocol. It was serious, and he had a duty to respond. As he put on his shoes and took the elevator to the parking garage, the words "No assignment or duty takes priority" echoed through his mind. If this wasn't a prank, those words weren't picked lightly, and they sank into his stomach to boil. What hell was this security fob leading him into?--For all his growing unease, the entrance to room 25-C was unremarkable. No security detail, no cameras, just one of the hundreds of smaller meeting rooms scattered around the campus. Hearing light chatter inside, Bale knocked on the door. An agent appeared to answer."I'm Agent Hetta, I'm here for.. the TMA protocol?" Bale said, holding the still buzzing fob up like a badge, unconvincingly.Without missing a beat, door opened. "Ah yes, we've all got one of those, no need to wave them about for everyone to see. Come in, come in." The man at the door was in his mid-40's, which made him feel almost ancient compared to the academy-fresh faces Bale usually worked with in the agency. He had the demeanor of a data geek, the kind the agency kept in the backrooms to channel their brainpower without the need for nuance and subtly demanded of field agents. The kind of person who is so proud in having the answers that they might not care to think about who's asking the question. "It's probably good you're here. Do you know why?""Not exactly." Bale responded."Then you're in the same boat as the rest of us. You're about the tenth person to show up, and now you know almost everything I do." The man gave Bale a look begging him to bite."Almost?" Bale asked."My name is Shea, but here they all call me Agent Carter. Now that we're on the same page, Welcome to Room 25-C." Shea gestured grandiously at the stock-standard meeting room table and chairs. "Are you in charge?" Bale asked.Shea cackled and said "Lord, no! The spooks here are way too smart to put a guy like me in charge. I'm just a threat analytics-""CARTER! NEED TO KNOW!" barked another agent across the room."-I uh.. I'm just a computer guy.""Then is this just some kind of, I don't know, meet and greet?" Bale looked around the room. There wasn't much socializing happening, a couple small, quiet conversations in a room full of mostly quiet agents on the lookout for more information. Before Carter could work up a suave response, a projector kicked on and a blurred face appeared on the wall. An anonymized voice spoke out."T. M. A. Secure the room. T. M. A. Secure the room. 30 seconds to comply." Each agent in the room raised their buzzing security fobs, affirming their authority to be present in whatever was about to happen. They took seats around the room and turned their attention to the screen. Shea locked the door, then glanced back at Bale questioningly. Bale shrugged, unsure if physical security was part of the order or not. The countdown on the screen hit 0, and for the first time all morning his pocket wasn't buzzing away. The face unblurred, though it might as well have stayed opaque. The person on the other end of the feed looked like the result of feeding a deep-learning algorithm thousands of agency staff photos and asking it to come up with a new agent. The same careful haircut and well-fit suit that all the upper-management wear. The same stern look of command."Thank you for arriving. Time is short, in this case shorter than usual. Everyone in the room with you now is immediately reassigned to this task, Project Acknowledge. Your missions parameters will arrive momentarily. But before that, some important disclosures. This message is pre-recorded. With a single exception, you now make up the entirety of the chain of command for this project. Regardless of background or area of expertise, anyone in this room now is a qualified member by virtue of being here, and should be trusted to act with the full responsibility befitting the gravest duties of the agency. It is critical that you act on the following information as a team, and above all else, the following information is not to leave this room without consensus. We entrust you to bring order and civility to the process of formulating a response plan, but you are authorized to subdue anyone who attempts to leave without consensus, up to and including lethal force."A few agents looked around, but no one showed any interest in leaving."You are about to receive a raw transmission from a special source. This transmission was captured after this recording session, in my future, so I cannot tell you what is in it. But before you can receive it, you need the full context. The transmission comes from the future. Not just my future, but yours too. After the Straknov-Baaja demonstration hinted at the possibility of atemporal communication, the agency began building a protocol for handling messages from other times. You, Project Acknowledge, are that protocol. We cannot know why the future is choosing to reach back now, but in the interest of self-preservation we assume it is intentional. As we do not understand the nature of non-causal actions, you must tread carefully. The degree to which the transmission is exposed is a critical part of your charter. The more people you expose to the information in the transmission, the less likely the future is to manifest in the way they sender hoped for. "For your own safety, there is a single mind barrier between you and the transmission. Independent of the team in your room, a specialist has been trained and prepared to function as the 'first eyes' on the transmission. In the hypothetical future where non-causal communication is being used offensively, we must not assume the transmission is intended to be safe to receive. You will soon be provided the location of the Receiving Room, where you will meet the specialist. One of your duties, collectively, is to ascertain the effects of receiving the transmission on the recipient. The specialist is knowingly taking on a role of sacrifice and service, but trusts you to consider them as contaminated once they have received the transmission. The recipient will not be informed as to your identities, your number, or any other details about you, to minimize the risk of exploiting our quarantine protocol. Contact will be limited to a simple, single light bulb with a switch for you to operate. Until the team has consensus for more robust interaction, the specialist has been trained to interpret the light turning on as a command to describe the transmission. As such, your final act before heading to the Receiving Room is to agree on how to determine consensus. "We cannot adequately prepare you for every possibility that lies ahead, because they are endless in number. We can only hope this protocol serves to protect the present from the future. Good luck, and may you bring us all into a new age of prosperity." With that, a small silver pill dropped from the projector and the machine whirred down to silence. The pill skittered across the table and settled near Shea. He calmly put his hand over it and addressed the room. "If I had to guess, this pill tells us where the Receiving Room is. I'm not a leader, but I trust in protocol in absence of authority. Before we go, we need a consensus. So I know this is kinda formal, but unless anyone objects, can we take our first vote? I propose we agree to serve in function in accordance to the will of the group as expressed by a majority vote. For now, a vote in favor will be cast by holding up our TMA fob. If you agree to these terms of consensus, please raise your fobs now." With a few cautious glances around the room, no one seemed ready to speak up in objection, and all hands raised fobs in agreement."Whew, OK. I don't know about you all, but that's the first time I've ever been taken seriously in a situation meeting!" Shea laughed. His resilient spirit breathed a little life into the room. He palmed the pill and held it to his eye for close inspection. "Oh, it's just some GPS co-ordinates, let's see..." After a minute of pawing at his phone, Shea announced "Aww, I was all excited for a riddle and a hunt, but this is just down the hall from here. Oh well, I guess it's more efficient. OK, room 31-F, let's move out!" The agents filed down the hall in a eerie silence that somehow felt even more oppressive than usual. Even friendly colleagues they passed were coldly ignored as they deliberately marched to the Receiving Room.Room 31-F was an enclosed balcony overlooking what seemed to be a re-purposed surgical gallery. One way mirrors provided a view of the lower room. It was dark down there, a single exit sign light casting a soft red glow on the murky form of a person sitting at a table. One of the agents raised his fob and said "Frankly, whatever is about to happen, I just want to get on with it. Permission to turn on the light and start this?" Most hands raised fobs in response, but Bale wasn't convinced the agent bothered to count before flipping the switch.The lights gave appearance to the specialist, seated at the desk, and to three previously unnoticed automatic gun turrets arranged around the room, pointed surely at the specialist. As surprising as they were to the agents in the observation deck, the specialist seemed to pay them no mind. She proceeded with the confidence of someone committed to their training, and without looking up at the one-way glass window, she began to talk."I am the specialist who will serve as the first recipient of the transmission. At the current moment, I am of sound body and mind, and I take on this role with a full understanding of the risks involved. Before I begin, all I ask is that you do not hesitate if it is clear I have lost myself. The weapons here are well equipped to permanently silence me if need arises, but I cannot activate them from here. Do not allow me to live if my body is in service of something beyond me, please. With that out of the way, let's all hope this brings us to a new age of wisdom, and if all goes well we can laugh about it over drinks tonight, my treat. OK, on to business. I will first reveal the transmission to myself. After a period of one minute, I will begin to speak. I will start with a vague description of the transmission, to explain the nature or medium it presents in and ensure we are properly equipped to receive it. I will then stop, and wait for a light signal to proceed with the actual transmission. If possible, I will dictate the transmission, or play it from any of the non-networked playback devices in the room with me. If not, I will request the appropriate equipment. To ensure there is no confusion about the end of the transmission, I will take my shoes off of my feet when I am finished and place them here on the table faced away from each other. This is a very out-of character action to express clear intent, and a test of my mental faculty. If I fail to arrange my shoes as described, you are to take that as a sign I've been compromised. Please signal me with the light to confirm you understand the procedure."The agent at the light switch glanced around the room. "Any questions? I mean, I don't know that she can even hear us. No? We're all good? Great." He toggled the switch on an off quick enough to stir up images of cheap jump scares from the horror movies Bale liked to watch as a kid. As if his brain was daring him to imagine some demon or malcontent spirit slipping into the room in the brief moment of darkness. He rubbed his eyes and reminded himself not to let his imagination get the best of him.The specialist, who in kind consideration hadn't named herself to them, opened a peculiar box on the table. Slightly larger than a suitcase, and clearly connected to some kind of battery. The angle of the observation deck made it impossible to see into the box, as it's open lid blocked the interior. But the glow of whatever was inside illuminated the specialists face with a scintillating mystery. For one minute, that seemed to stretch on longer than any minute had a right to, she was the only human on the planet to know what she knew. Despite that, the extensive training and preparation she went through to be in that position kept her face almost totally blank. The lack of fear on her face was only as reassuring as the lack of everything else was alarming. Agents fidgeted uncomfortably, many busied themselves with looking to their watches for a countdown."The transmission has arrived in text, and the text appears to be in English. I am not aware of any unusual impact from reading the transmission, and believe it to be safe to communicate to you. If you agree, toggle the lights and I will continue. Until then, I will tell you personal stories so that you may measure my behavior. When I was 8, the school I attended was partially burned down over summer break. No one was injured, so it didn't make the news. They even managed to rebuild the damaged wing before students returned in the fall. My first class was in a rebuilt room, but I didn't know it had been rebuilt. They used the same blueprints, and stocked it with the same chairs..""As interesting as this school story is, does anyone mind if we jump to the transmission?" asked one of the more anxious agents in the observation deck. "She looks fine, and honestly she's done her part. We don't need to make her dance for us, right?" No one seemed to be too set on hearing the end of the specialist's story, so the agent by the light toggled it off and on again. This time it felt to Bale more like opening your eyes after a long dream. Everything before was weird and silly, but now it was time for some reality.With all eyes glued to her, the specialist spoke. "The transmission appears to be simple. It reads 'Their is no need to worry, you are doing great.' Hearing it out loud doesn't convey the full message though. I will transcribe it exactly as written on the board here." She walked to a wall, took a marker, and began spelling out the message in big letters. 'Their is no need to worry, you are doing great.' "The spelling of the first word, 'their', is not my mistake. That is exactly how the message is written. And that's all there is to it, that I can see. I'll patiently wait here until you determine what to do next."Every agent in the room took a long, slow breath in as they each tried to figure out what to say, but Shea beat them to the punch. "I quit. I'm sorry everyone, but it's over."The agent, who Bale recognized as the officer who reminded Shea to mind his tongue earlier, stood up abruptly. "Excuse me? After all the spook stuff this morning, and that crazy mission briefing, you got the goods and you're out?" she asked."Oh, no... listen. I'm all down to help. If this was like a call from the future asking us to stop eating cheese, or watch out for an asteroid or something, I'd be all over it. But.." Shea looked around the room at the unconvinced faces "Oh. You don't see it yet. OK. This really, really sucks, and I'm not great at giving bad news. But, we're doomed. Like, we're finished, game over.""How to you figure?" Bale asked, feeling like he's missing the most obvious joke ever told. "The transmission said everything is fine.""The future just sent us the first message back in time. This is a monumental moment, one that will be at least as well documented as when Aldrin landed on the moon, right? But they messed up. The very first word is a typo.""So what? Aldrin messed up his speech too, and lived for a long time afterwards." Bale said."Yeah, but Aldrin couldn't stop everyone from listening in. Everyone knew his mistake as soon as he made it. If NASA didn't have to worry about amateur radio nerds calling them out, don't you think they would've edited the missing word into the recording before putting it out to the public? The crowning achievement of the space race marred just slightly by a misspeak, you can bet your butts the top brass wanted a do-over. Unlike NASA, that's a real possibility with our friends from the future."An agent interjected "I may not be totally up to date on time travel theory, but if they were going to change it, wouldn't we just have received the correct message?"Shea shook his head. "No. I mean, look, I don't know how time travel or this message from the future actually works. But there are a two main models that we theorize about. The way you're talking about is the Single Timeline theory. Time and reality is a single continuous thing, and if you jump back in time to change it, it will have always been changed. Like editing a movie. Causality is always maintained. If this future message worked that way, we wouldn't receive the typo message. As soon as the future fixes it, it will have never been a typo. If your brain is tugging at all the paradoxes this introduces, you're in good company. That's why we have another model.Another is the Multiple Timelines interpretation. Whenever you travel back in time, you actually split reality at that time into two forks. One proceeds as always up to the point of you traveling back in time. The other starts with you arriving in the past and carries forwards from there, taking into account any changes you create. I think this message proves we're in the latter scenario."This time it was an older agent who spoke up. "OK, I think I follow. But if they send a second 'first message' back, that just means there's a new timeline that got it right. What's so worrying about that?""That timeline has a future. Ours is only good until we figure out how to send messages back in time and send that one to us. The future that Future Us wants Current Us to have is the one New Timeline Us gets to have. We're the mistake timeline. Even if we keep existing, we all just got proof that we aren't the versions of ourselves fulfilling our true purpose. We aren't the versions of ourselves that the Future wants, even though it's their fault they can't type."Faces were slowly melting into panic as Shea's explanation carried on. "Maybe they'll just let it go? If someone as smart as you is in the room, maybe they'll know better than to correct the typo?" asked an agent who hadn't quite opened the door to fear."They are time manipulators. I would love to believe they have our interests at heart, but if they did, they wouldn't be reaching back in time to begin with. You only send messages to the past if you want to change history. They've already sent us a message, dooming some other timeline of humans that never received it. If they've done it once, why wouldn't they do it again? We aren't any more special than the versions of ourselves in the other dead-end timeline. When your printer malfunctions and sprays ink all over a page and you have to load a new sheet of paper, do you think much of the sacrifice of the tree who's body went into the ruined page? Even if you do, does that stop you from pressing Print a second time?""Jeez. That's so.. ugh. I can't even explain how sick this makes me feel. What the hell should we do?" Bale asked, feeling the panic take hold in his mind.Shea chuckled, though there was clearly no mirth behind it, and said "I don't know that it matters. I'm not sure anything we do will matter anymore, ever.""What are you going to do?"Shea looked around the room. He'd never imagined that a room full of agents would be looking to him for guidance like this, and now that they were, it sure didn't feel that great. "You have all made careers out of keeping secrets, maybe it's best if you keep doing that. Me? I'm going to take the specialist up on her offer, and see if a long conversation with some tall drinks can talk me out of a nine millimeter make out session. Like I said, I quit. Who's with me?"One by one, fobs were raised one last time. Some accompanied by a laugh, some with a sigh, and more than one at then end of a hand trembling with primal fear. Then, as professionally as they could, the agents walked out of the room and tried their best not to speak of the day ever again.