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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Fluence: Saga (Part I)

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The date was November 21, 2259 by the Earthan calendar. The new crew of the X González starship just launched from the planet of Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. Superpowered inventor, Holly ‘Weaver’ Blue; career government administrator, Goswin Montagne; and superintelligence, Eight Point Seven left friends both back on that world, as well as on another ship going in a different direction. Coming along with them was prisoner Briar de Vries, who was accused of, and admitted to, murder. The nature of his crime was too complicated to let him be processed through any standard judicial system in the stellar neighborhood. The crew didn’t know what they were going to do with him yet. The leadership of the planet where the incident occurred wanted him gone, so this was the best way to accomplish it. For now, he was being limited to his cabin.
They didn’t know where they were going either. They made a few jumps, but dropped down to drifting speed until they could decide on a vector, or at least a direction. There was no point in firing up the fractional engines until they had some clue what they were doing. They were still within the Tau Cetian heliosphere, watching the host star get smaller and smaller as they slipped farther away from it. Goswin and Weaver were doing this anyway. Eight Point Seven’s consciousness was uploaded into the ship’s systems itself, and Briar’s cabin did not have a viewport, nor was he going to be involved in the decision-making process.
“How far has the galaxy been colonized by now?” Goswin asked.
“To varying degrees,” Weaver began to answer, “Earth has begun to explore most systems within fifty light years. That’s the bubble of the stellar neighborhood, and Earth is going to be focused on that for a while. Of course, Gatewood has launched a set of modular ships that will spread across the entire galaxy, but it will be tens of thousands of years before that’s all over.”
“So that limits where we can practically go,” Goswin posed. “Unless, I suppose, if we want to go somewhere that no one has been before. That sounds boring, though. If there aren’t any people, it’s probably not all that interesting yet.”
“Mostly, you’re right.”
I have a suggestion,” Eight Point Seven announced through the speakers.
“What is it?” Weaver asked.
Thirteen and a half light years from here is Alpha Centauri B,” Eight Point Seven continued.
“Also known as Toliman,” Weaver added, nodding. “I’ve heard of it.”
Did you hear that it was destroyed?” Eight Point Seven asked her.
Weaver took a moment to respond. “No. Destroyed how?”
Unclear, but my guess would be a matter-antimatter annihilation.
“How would it be possible to annihilate an entire star?” Goswin questioned.
An antistar,” Eight Point Seven answered.
“If antistars exist,” Weaver started, “they’re nowhere near regular stars. The chances of one drifting close enough to hit Toliman before hitting something else are approaching zero.”
Maybe then it’s worth checking out?” Eight Point Seven offered.
Weaver sighed. “You’re the captain.”
“I am? Oh, I am. Well, that was...” Goswin had leadership skills, but did that make him qualified to captain a starship? It was a tiny little crew, with only a pilot and an engineer, so he didn’t feel much pressure taking it on as a role, but now a real decision had come up, so he needed to start thinking about what his job truly meant. “That does sound interesting. How far away did you say?”
“It’s 13.5 light years,” Weaver answered him. “It will take us 13.5 years to get there, but for us, it’ll feel like a week.”
“Eight Point Seven suggested it, which suggests that she’s in favor of it. I’m in favor of it. That leaves you, Weaver.”
“This isn’t a democracy,” she argued.
“I don’t see why it can’t be, at least for now. We’re not in any big hurry, are we? Let me make the decisions in the heat of the moment, but if everything’s okay, I’ll want to hear your respective opinions.”
Sounds fair to me,” Eight Point Seven agreed. She too had leadership experience, but has since retired, and she just wanted to fly the ship now.
“Very well. Let’s go to Toliman...or not, as it were.”
“Pilot,” Goswin said. “Lay in a course, and engage at maximum warp.”
Eight Point Seven laughed, and started the fractional engines.
A few days into the trip, everything was going fine. They had passed several light years already, and were on track to making their arbitrary deadline. The ship was perfect, running on its own, with Eight Point Seven only having to make a few minor course adjustments, and repairs from micrometeoroid strikes that the EM and TK fields were unable to handle. This was all about to change. The great thing about moving at extremely high fractional speeds is that you get to where you’re going much faster, but it does come with its downsides. First, those micrometeoroids can become a real problem if the power shielding and the hull fail. Secondly, you could encounter—or even pass—something without even realizing it. For the most part, space is empty. The chances of running into a celestial body are rather low, which is why it’s generally okay to move so quickly. There are some things that cannot be predicted, however, nor detected. Eight Point Seven processes information rapidly, and can see a lot beyond the doppler glow that blocks views from the ports, but even she isn’t omniscient.
Something came upon them; some kind of force, and they never saw what it was. Normally, the internal inertial dampeners would prevent them from feeling that the ship was even in motion. The humans would be splattered red against the walls if this safety feature didn’t exist, which was why the redundancies for the redundancies on all of these interstellar ships had multiple stages of redundancies on top of their redundant redundancies. It was the one thing that almost no one could survive. Even the loss of life support could be okay, as long as it was brief, and not too extreme. Even so, failures did happen, and it was what happened here. Fortunately, it was not as bad as it could have been. Everybody survived, but the humans were severely injured when the ship X González suddenly lurched to the side.
This was when weird things started to happen. As they were each trying to get back to their feet, they started to see other versions of themselves, standing, crouching, or lying in different places around the bridge. Even a few versions of Briar were there with them, when he should have been still locked up in his cabin. A nearby console would spontaneously transition from being whole to being damaged, and then back again. The lights changed colors, and the space around them warped and stretched to a point of infinity. Feelings of profound dread were met with feelings of elation, and even euphoria. At one point, the whole ship cracked in half, and then reassembled itself. Finally, after all this tumult, everything stopped, and they started to drift at normal subfractional speeds again.
“Eight Point Seven!” Goswin and Weaver cried at the same time. When the latter conceded to the former, he repeated himself, and went on, “Eight Point Seven, report!”
I...I don’t know,” Eight Point Seven admitted. “The data in my memory indicates conflicting information, including that the incident took place over the course of a few moments, that it took 141 years, and also that we’ve been gone for an eternity. I cannot rectify the discrepancies.
“All right, don’t worry about the past. Let’s just focus on our present circumstances. Can you find our location?”
We are roughly 135 light years from our original position. I’m afraid that I don’t have an exact number, due to an uncertainty regarding our starting point, but based on astronomical data, I can pinpoint our location at the outer edge of the Achernar system, also known as Alpha Eridani.
Goswin looked to Weaver for guidance, who shook her head. “Never heard of it. I’m an inventor, not an astronomer.”
“I don’t suppose it’s populated,” Goswin asked.
It appears to be,” Eight Point Seven answered.
“You mean, it appears to not be,” Goswin figured.
No,” Eight Point Seven insists. She turned the main viewscreen on to show them the star that they were approaching. It had been surrounded by a Dyson swarm. There were definitely intelligent entities here. How they managed to cross the vast distance in such a short amount of time was unclear. Then again, they didn’t quite know what year it was anyway.
“Do they see us?” Goswin pressed.
“Absolutely, they do,” Weaver replied.
“I’m receiving a message. Text only.” Eight Point Seven displayed the message on the screen. X González, please rendezvous with Intake at the below coordinates for debrief. Klaatu barada nikto. And then it provided the coordinates.
“They know who we are,” Goswin pointed out the obvious.
“Time travelers.” Weaver nodded. “The ship has no weapons, captain. I suggest we rendezvous, and I recommend we do so at subfractional speeds.”
“Do you know what those last three words mean?”
“No idea.”
It’s hard to know their intentions,” Eight Point Seven began, “but it’s a pop culture reference from the 20th and 21st centuries that could mean stand down.
“Uhh...” Goswin had been learning a lot about this ship, but at relativistic speeds, he had not had that much time with it. “Maximum subfractional to the coordinates, or whatever. Just...go as fast as possible while operating under the assumption that these people actually don’t know anything about time travel and teleportation.”
Understood.” Eight Point Seven piloted the ship into the asteroid, and docked where the lights indicated. The two humans stepped out, and approached a small group of other humans who were waiting for them on the pier. A man took a half step forward, and offered his hand. “Captain Montagne, my name is Intake Coordinator Pontus Flagger. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Parallel.”
“It seems you have us at a disadvantage,” Goswin responded. “We don’t know who you are, or what this parallel is.”
“You’ve heard of alternate timelines?” Pontus assumed.
Goswin was determined to remain cagey. “Maybe.”
Pontus smiled. “This is like an alternate timeline, except that it happens at the same time. It’s a parallel reality. There are other parallels, but ours was the first, so it earned the most on-the-nose title.”
“Do you know how we ended up here?” Weaver asked him.
Pontus started casually doing finger tuts with one hand. For the last movement, he slid his index finger horizontally, allowing a holographic screen to appear between them. It started to show them images from a very, very old TV show. “Do you recognize this?” he asked.
“It looks like something out of The Verge Saga, perhaps Crusaders?” This was a multiseries franchise that took place in a far away galaxy, a long time ago.
“That’s right,” Pontus confirmed. “The premise is that there is a single point in space at the center of the fictional galaxy where all interstellar travel meets. It doesn’t matter where you wanna go, you can only move in two directions; either towards the Verge, or away from it. This place is like that, except it’s not so unilateral. In a few months, people, objects, and even individual particles, will find themselves here. In addition to preparing for these arrivals, we’ve been studying the phenomenon for decades, trying to figure out what causes it, and whether it can be controlled. You appear to be some kind of vanguard. If you explain what happened before you arrived, it might help us understand. Perhaps you’re just early to the party, for whatever reason, or there’s a chance that you caused it.”
“You know who we are,” Goswin reminded him, “and the name of our ship.”
“Your story is a matter of historical record to us,” Pontus clarified. “It would be like you knowing who was on the boat that crossed the Delaware on Christmas 1776.”
“Do you also know who else is on our ship?” Goswin questioned.
Pontus waited a moment to respond. “Besides the pilot, we are aware that you are transporting some kind of prisoner, but we do not know who.”
Goswin looked over at Weaver, not for help navigating this situation, but because she may not approve of the direction that he wanted to take. He decided to make his first executive decision as the Captain. “Yes, we’re transporting him, because there is nothing else we can do for him. He is the man who killed Mateo Matic. If you’ve heard of us, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. To my knowledge, time travelers do not have any formal legal institution, and we believe that he would be unfit to stand trial within any court system in our...reality. Do you suppose someone here would be equipped to take this challenge on?”
Pontus did not expect this development, but he was showing signs of patience, as well as a hint of curiosity. “We have nothing like that here, and due to the nature of our research, we couldn’t install a Nexus for instantaneous interstellar travel. We would be willing to transport him elsewhere, but you should first learn how our legal system works. You may not be so keen on it if it’s sufficiently different from what you know.”
“Yeah, I think that would be best. Something should be done about him. He can’t stay in his cabin forever,” Goswin decided.
“Very well. Come with me.”

Friday, March 1, 2024

Microstory 2095: Not Thick Enough

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My parents were pretty tired when they flew into town. There was this whole issue at the airport. I didn’t know this before, but they just built a new airport for Kansas City, and it’s not my favorite. I preferred the older concept, with the circles. People hated that, but my thing is, it can be a great thing, if you do it right. They designed those specific ones poorly, I’ll admit, but the idea is perfectly sound. These are rings, which allow your driver to pull up pretty much right to your gate. There are multiple security entrances, which means that you only have to contend with the people who are getting on your flight, or one of a handful of others. If they staggered the flight schedule right, though, and assigned the gates wisely, they could actually make it so that the only people who are in line for security at any one time are on the same flight. The other flights in your sector have already left, or don’t need to get through yet. Anyway, the issue was that the original ones were not thick enough, which left less room for bathrooms, and almost no room for restaurants, and other shops. Everything was on the outside of security, which I didn’t have a problem with. Since getting through security was so much faster than at other airports, it was fine. You didn’t have to get there three years early, because you’re already just right there! Ugh, I could go on and on about airport layouts, including the fact that you can squeeze more planes in the same area, because the curve is constantly dropping away from the fleet, but let’s get back to the story. I spent a lot of time in the new one, waiting for my parents to land. They’re still figuring out how to coordinate all this foot and car traffic, it was a mess to know where you can pick up your family, and when, then there was a glitch, so everyone was waiting at the wrong baggage conveyor belt. I think it will be fine, they just need time to work out all the kinks. I was going to take them back to my landlord’s house to meet her, and share a meal or two, but they just wanted to get to the hotel, order room service, and then go to sleep. They’ve both been retired for years, so they’ve grown used to their days not being so busy. I decided to spend the night with them. Fortunately, the hotel made its own mistake, and assigned them a double room, so there was a bed there for me. I don’t post on my blog on the weekends, so I’ll catch you all up on Monday. That’s when they’ll be flying back out, so I’m sure we’ll run into more trouble.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Microstory 2094: This New Life Chapter

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I’ve been missing my family. I’ve told you lies about them, like how they live in a different universe, but I’ve also told you some true things, including the fact that a lot of them are teachers, and that my parents liked to log the number of kids who came to their house for Halloween. Don’t worry, it’s not like there’s anything bad between us, but I flew the nest years ago, and I never went back. I was being rebellious, and wanted to exert my independence, and for the longest time, I felt like I couldn’t return, even just to enjoy a Sunday brunch with them, because I thought it would look like I was a failure. I still talk to them, but we’re not nearly as close as we used to be. I think I would like to change that. Things are in motion. I spoke with them on the phone earlier today, and asked if I could visit them. They insisted that they come see me here instead. They say that nothing has changed about where they live, or the way that they live, so they want to see where I am, and how I’m doing. I think that’s okay, even though things aren’t super great right now. They needed a day to get their affairs in order, but they’ll be flying in tomorrow, late morning. I’m going to rent a car to meet them at the airport. I was worried that my social worker wouldn’t like it, because I’m not really supposed to travel, but he actually encouraged it. He thought that I would need closure, or something, but I see it as a new beginning more than anything. I’ll let you know how it goes, but my next blog chapter will probably not be long, since I’ll be too busy writing this new life chapter.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Microstory 2093: Not Depressed At All?

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I’ve been going through some stuff. I dealt with a lot when I first came to...town, and then I got sick multiple times. The last one was the roughest illness I’ve ever experienced, and I contracted staph infections four times in my adult life! Going to the hospital to get the parasite taken out of me was a huge wake up call, but the problem is I’m still proverbially bleary-eyed. I don’t know who I am anymore, or what I’m supposed to do. It’s not like working at the nursery was ever my calling, but it was pleasant, and I enjoyed it. I guess I’m not even really talking about a job specifically. I just...I don’t know who I am; that’s the best way to put it. Everyone I’ve met here has been so great to me, and so helpful. I required quite a bit of patience, and I appreciate how difficult that must have been for them. I’ve been able to save up about 1500 dollars so far, because my landlord has been buying my groceries, I don’t have to pay utilities, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have any other responsibilities. That’s not bad, but it’s not nearly enough for me to start my life over from scratch. I need to find something else, and I need to do it fast. It’s just been hard to even go for it, ya know? I’m depressed. It’s not the first time, but it’s particularly bad this time. I was hoping that I was on my way to getting over it since I was separated from the love of my life, Cricket, but now I’ve backslid. I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m down again. I’ve grown so used to it that it’s become my resting state. Joy is something that I can fathom, because there are times when I’m less depressed than other times. But not depressed at all? Is that even a thing? I’ve genuinely never been sure about that. I was a full-on adult before I realized that normal people do not wake up nauseated every morning. I just thought that everyone went through the same thing, so I didn’t usually bother telling doctors my concerns. Even when I did bring it up, they would always brush it aside like it was nothing, until one of them was all, “you have acid reflux, dude. Gravity works against you when you’re lying down.” Just knowing that made it easier to get through the day, even when I didn’t actually do anything to correct the problem. There’s no simple fix for my sadness, though, except for drastic measures. The only way I have ever figured out how to get out of a funk is to make a huge change in my life. Of course, that usually causes anxiety vomiting, but with the right over-the-counter medicine, and personal behaviors, I can alleviate those symptoms too. I don’t know what I’m gonna do yet, but sitting around and sulking is decidedly not it. Getting yet another job for which I’m barely qualified is also not the answer. Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Microstory 2092: I’m Finally Back Home

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I’m profoundly tired today, as I’ve been for the last week. Or rather, I guess I’ve been tired for weeks, haven’t I, because of the parasite? It’s been taking a lot of energy from me, which should have been my first indication that something was wrong, even if I really did believe that I was an alien from another universe. I can’t eat enough, and I can’t sleep enough. Today is different, though. I’ve been released from the hospital specifically because the parasite has been vanquished, but it was just a hard day, so all of those kinds of symptoms are still around, just now for different reasons. Before I could be released, I had to meet with all sorts of people; I can’t even name them all. Doctors, nurses, a patient advocate (who was more advocating for the hospital). The pharmacist came upstairs to tell me how the drugs that they had prescribed me worked, so that was nice of her. At some point, a class of med students showed up, but they didn’t spend very much time with me, since it was my last day. Not everyone who came in was good. Two lawyers snuck into my room in case I wanted to sue my boss. I’m not entirely sure how they found out about what happened, but I don’t appreciate my private story being—oh, wait, I’m the one who told them, aren’t I? I’ve been telling my story this whole time on this blog, inviting all sorts of characters to come into my life, and give me their two cents. That’s okay, I could sure use the money, right? Anyway, I’m finally back home, and about to go to bed. I have to set my alarm every hour and a half to take my medicine. It’s going to be hard to get real sleep, but as I’ve already said, I don’t have to go back into work anymore, so I guess I’ll just stay here until I end up with a total of eight hours.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Microstory 2091: Sometimes, Stuff Just Happens

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One thing I failed to mention in my last post is that the infection that messed with my mind didn’t just make me think that I was a traveler from another world with the power to destroy cosmic portals. My entire reasoning for doing so was flawed. My co-worker went missing, and the idea that something supernatural was going on with that buried itself into my brain alongside the parasite. I started imagining other disappearances in order to justify my own obsession with it. No one else has gone missing since. Well, I mean, of course they have; people go missing every day... Or, actually, do they? Maybe this universe isn’t interesting enough for things like that to happen. No, I’m slipping again. This is my world, and it’s the only world. There are no others; I have to keep reminding myself of that. The hospital has insisted that I stay here one more night, to make sure that the chemicals that poisoned my mind are completely flushed from my system. I need to make sure I don’t say things like that, so they don’t think I’ve backslid. I’m not going to delete the sentence above, though, because I want to be honest, and show them my integrity. I made another mistake, and I’ll own that. I’ll own all of my mistakes, and I think that everyone should try to live their lives like that. My boss has admitted her own, though I’m not sure that any of it is here fault. She feels bad that I was infected at her nursery, and she may or may not be worried that I’ll sue her for negligence, or something like that. I don’t want to do that, though. I just want to get healthy, and move past this. Everyone reacts differently to the world around them, and I’m the only one who was negatively affected by the parasite. Who knows how many people go home from there with terrible allergic reactions, but never make the connection, because sometimes, stuff just happens. Still, she’s done a nice thing by paying me for the week that I missed as a result of my illness, as well as this current week, even though I won’t be attempting to go back, and in fact, will never be able to work there again. I am unmatched to the environment, and will need to find a job elsewhere. I really appreciate her doing that for me, though, so I can stand a little on my own feet until I do find something else. Obviously, I’ve put all plans for major purchases on hold, which means until later to the bike, the apartment, and my own computer. I’m still grateful to my landlord too, who has stood by me throughout all of this. She’s the one who got me the medical attention that I needed, and I’ll never be able to repay her for it. As soon as I get out of here, though, I’m going to find a new job, and start trying.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: May 15, 2436

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The new ship was done. The holographic projectors were up and running, making them look like something else entirely. Reminiscent of holodecks from the Star Trek franchise, a magnetic field of equivalent dimension gave it the impression of physical size, for when light was not enough. If someone, for instance, were to shoot a missile at a section of it that didn’t technically exist, it would not simply pass through it, but interact with this field, reinforcing the lie that they were bigger than they really were. In honor of this inspired technology, Ramses chose the USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as their first hologram. It was a warship, so it looked a bit menacing, but was also relatively small. They couldn’t make it look as large as something like the Death Star, because the truth would be too easy to detect. There were a few other fictional ships that Ramses, and other members of the team, wanted to try, but they would eventually transition into original models. It wasn’t super likely that anyone in the Exin Empire had ever seen anything of these things, but there was always a chance.
This was an important test, because while the resort planet they just went to had no orbital infrastructure, Ex-666 did. It wasn’t much, but it was there, and it was trying to destroy them. Leona and Ramses both stayed on board so they could outrun it. For now, they were doing just fine with that. The defense satellite was apparently not designed to attack, but to prevent unauthorized entry. With this clearly being a penal colony, that made a hell of a lot of sense. So they were just going to keep away from it, and only fight back if the situation grew tiresome. Generally speaking, they did not operate on ships with weapons, but the Dorsch had an offensive system that they could use if they had no other choice. Ramses still had his eyes set on something brand new, advanced, and tailored specifically for their needs, but they weren’t going to find help on Ex-666, so that was still a dream for another day.
The rest of the team took the dropship down to investigate the surface. They didn’t want to teleport while they were being so closely watched, because they still didn’t know how ubiquitous such abilities were in this region of space. It could look too suspicious. The satellite may have called in reinforcements from somewhere, and who knew how quickly that would happen? Their only real concern was finding Vitalie!666, but it seemed ridiculous to not at least try to communicate with the locals. They were worried it would go terribly, and now was the moment of truth. “Good evening, folks. We are refugees from Ex-741. Have you, perchance, heard of it?” Mateo asked. At present, he looked like James Van Der Beek, because that was the only form he found himself able to maintain for extended periods of time for some reason. Again, hopefully no one here knew enough Earth pop culture to recognize him.
“We’ve heard of Ex-741,” one woman replied. “Why would you need to be a refugee from there? Weren’t you just engineers and technicians?”
“They were technicians,” Mateo lied, pointing to Angela, who looked like her finishing school teacher, and Marie, who looked like Marie Antoinette. “I was a janitor. She was a singer,” he added, pointing to Olimpia, who looked like a woman she had a crush on while she was still living in society on Earth.
“Singer? The dockyard had singers?”
“We need entertainment too. Anyway—” He had this whole explanation about how Ex-741 was going to be destroyed, and they were the last to escape, but they got lost in space, but these people didn’t seem to care.
“Sing something,” the woman insisted.
“Well, she doesn’t have to do it on comman—” Mateo started to say, but he was interrupted yet again.
“No problem.” Olimpia started to sing, using that positively gorgeous voice that the other five had forgotten she had, because she did not do this often enough. The locals were just as enamored by it. More started walking up when they heard it. They all clapped profusely after she was finished singing Ex:Re’s The Dazzler.
The woman from before smiled and nodded. “You’ve landed in the right place. This is where the Chief Ascendant lives. He’ll want to meet you.” She looked over to a teenager nearby. “Go gather some wagmen.” The young man ran off, and when he returned with five men who were rolling a wagon by hand, the woman rolled her eyes. “I meant pedal wagmen, son. These are honored guests.”
“Wait,” Mateo said, stepping forward. “You don’t have automobiles, so you get around by people who walk or pedal?”
“That’s right,” she answered. “Our technology is limited. You’ve fallen on a prison world. I’m sorry.”
Mateo shook his head. “Just tell us where the Chief Ascendant lives. We can walk there on our own. Really, we’re built tough. We insist,” he added when he saw that she was going to argue.
“Very well. It’s not far, just up the road.” She pointed up the hill.
The four of them nodded, and headed that way. Once they were at the sort of castle-looking building, the guards opened the gates with no questions, and let them through. They were wearing headsets, likely connected to radios, which meant that their technology wasn’t evenly limited. Who knew what other anachronistic things that they used in their daily lives?
They expected this Chief Ascendant to be lounging around on a bed full of pillows, and a harem of women, but he was behind a standing desk, along with other people. They were looking through papers, and discussing matters of state. “Ah. You are the freemen, aren’t you? Welcome to Ex-666.” He didn’t stop working. He kept signing declarations, and approving memos, or whatever else his staff was asking him to do.
“You’ve built yourself a nice society here, haven’t you,” Mateo put forth.
“Yes, well, we share a common purpose. We all hate the Exin Empire. I don’t know who told them that they should throw all of their insurgents onto one world, but we are probably the most successful one in the region. We work together, and if you’re here to disrupt our way of life, we will fight back.”
“That’s not why we’re here,” Mateo insisted. He was doing all the talking today. That was probably fine, for now. My colleagues are up in our ship right now, avoiding the ire of your orbital defense satellite.”
The Chief Ascendant laughed. “It’s not ours. It’s part of what keeps us here.”
“Do you want us to destroy it for you?”
The Chief Ascendant stopped, and raised one eyebrow at Mateo. “You came here in a warship?”
“It has weapons. It’s not a warship, but my engineer assures me that they can do it. They just don’t know what the consequences will be.”
“They’ll send an armada from Ex-182.”
Mateo sighed. “We can’t protect you from all that.”
“Could you...gain control over it?”
Mateo smirked, and turned his head slightly away to listen to Leona’s response. “Yeah, they surely could. They just need to get on board.”
“You could have anything you wanted,” the Chief Ascendant began, “if you did that for us.” He placed his elbow on the desk, and pointed to the sky. “That thing has an energy beam that can shut off all systems from hundreds of ships all at once, and then draw them in. If we had control over it, instead of the Exins, we would beg the armada to come, so that we could steal it.”
Mateo cleared his throat, and faced the group. “What do y’all think?” The conversation over comms was short, so he turned right back around. “Any enemy of Bronach Oaksent is a friend of ours.” He looked at the twins. “Go help them.”
Angela and Marie nodded. Angela tapped on her chest twice. “Two to beam up.” They both teleported away.
The crowd gasped. “You have some wild technology.” The Chief Ascendant noted.
Mateo chuckled. “They destroyed our planet on purpose, and since they didn’t wanna be destroyed along with it, they ran off a long time before it happened. We were left behind, with no oversight, so we stole all the tech we could, and flew off in the opposite direction.”
“Yes,” the Chief Ascendant agreed. “Their inability to organize, and our ability to do so, will ultimately be their downfall.”
One of his men sidled up to him, and whispered in his ear, “sir? What about the True Prisoner? They could help with her too.”
“Who is the True Prisoner?” Mateo asked, having easily heard his remark.
“This whole planet is a prison,” the Chief Ascendant began to explain, “but it is lush with vegetation, and other useful resources. We can’t leave, but most people don’t feel the need to. They’ve built a life for themselves. They entrust me to protect them, and to prepare to fight in their stead, which you’ve agreed to help us with. The point is, very few of us actually feel like prisoners. For the most part, things are better than they were before we came here. More would probably come on purpose if we could get the message out to them, letting them know that crime actually does pay. Only one of us is in a real prison. We, uhh...have been trying to get to her for decades. We don’t know anything about her; who she is, what she did to anger the Empire so much, or how she is able to survive the extreme heat and noxious fumes.”
“Extreme heat, and noxious fumes?” Mateo echoed. That sounded familiar to him. “Is she in a volcano?”
“You are quite perceptive. Yes, she is. It’s quite a distance to this volcano, but if you can teleport, you can get there quickly, and maybe even get her out. We would sure like to finally meet her.”
“Show me.”
The Chief Ascendant called for a map. His Prime Cartographer explained where they would be going, and went into more detail about the temperatures involved. Someone also called ahead to let the people who lived closer know that visitors would be arriving, and would need firesuits. Mateo thought about arguing against the need for such things, but decided not to bother. “Uhh...two more to beam up,” Mateo said awkwardly, trying to replicate Angela’s fake request for a technological solution. Unfortunately, he tapped on his chest after his request, instead of before, which would mean that their team wouldn’t have even heard it. That was stupid of him, but there was no undoing it now. He and Olimpia just let it go, and disappeared.
They found themselves in the magma chamber, standing on a solid rock formation. The heat was intense, as were the fumes. They could see a manmade structure shimmering in the distance, sitting upon its own rock island. It had a metal frame, but most of his was transparent, surely made of some kind of heat-resistant polycarbonate material. Mateo and Olimpia looked over to their left as someone was slowly side-stepping towards them in a shiny suit. They were holding an extra firesuit in their hand, and struggling in the attempt to give it to whoever was willing to take it. They were clearly finding it difficult to move in the thing, full stop, and the two of them didn’t need all that dead weight. Mateo dismissed the helpful volcanologist’s help, waving him away politely. He took Olimpia’s hand, and they made a jump into the cell. It was better inside, though not by much. Now that they were closer, he could see that this was no ordinary prisoner. He took her in his arms, and jumped them both to safety.
“Took ya long enough, James Van Der Beek!” Mirage exclaimed.
Mateo instinctually dropped his hologram, and turned back into himself. “Mirage Reaver, how the hell long have you been in there, dude?”
“That’s not my last name. What year is it?”
“It’s 2436.”
“I’ve been in there for eighty-three years,” she answered. “I did get one break thirty-six years ago, but then I had to go back.”
“Argh! God, it’s been so long!” He stepped back into her, and gave her a big hug. “I can’t believe you’re, like, all into this whole thing.”
“I’ve been doin’ my own thang, man. I know people. I’ve had adventures. I’ve traveled through time.”
“Not all it’s cracked up to be, eh?”
Leona appeared next to them. “Mirage. It’s nice to see you. Last we saw each other, you were on Altair.”
“You knew that she was back in this dimension?” Mateo questioned.
“I don’t tell you everything.”
“Are we cool?” Mirage asked Leona.
“We’re cool,” Leona confirmed. “Ramses is alive and well.”
“Thank you for getting me out of there. That place sucked. And also, hello.”
“Hi, I’m Olimpia.”
“Olimpia Sangster. It’s nice to finally meet you in person. I helped you once. You didn’t know it was me.”
“Thank you,” Olimpia replied graciously, not asking her to clarify.
“So.” Mirage clapped her hands together. “This is a prison world. My ship is nearby, and it’s invisible, so if you need a way to escape, you can come with me.”
“Where are you going?” Mateo asked her.
“I have a score to settle.” She looked at her bare wrist. “I just hope he’s still alive.”
Leona was too curious. What kind of vessel would an entity like Mirage build for herself? “What’s the name of your ship?”
“It’s actually a module called the Ambassador. It can detach from, and propel itself independently of, the main ship, which I named The Iman Vellani.”

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Starstruck: Lie Low and Sing Small (Part VIII)

Generated by Google Gemini Advanced text-to-image AI software, powered by Imagen 2
Brooke nodded, understanding at least the facts of the story, but not necessarily the subtext. “So where is the Elizabeth Warren now?” she asked.
Mirage and Lilac were back where they belonged in the timeline. The latter was currently having a discussion with her alternate self, trying to figure out how they would raise Aristotle and Niobe. That was between the two of them, and the crew of the Iman Vellani had no say in it. Their trip back here was uneventful, albeit long and convoluted. They stole the ship from where Mirage knew it would be sitting unattended, docked at the top end of the space elevator leading two multiple points on Earth, including Panama. After she placed Lilac in stasis to keep her alive, she plotted a course to Alpha Centauri B. During the eleven-year journey, Mirage regrew her skin, retrofitted their ship with some upgrades, and then placed herself in stasis too, so she wouldn’t be bored the rest of the way. Once they were at their destination, they still had to wait another thirty some-odd years before it was time to literally jump ship.
Mirage’s past self sent a nanofactory to Toliman in the year 2225, just in case they ever needed to make a quick getaway from the planet of Bungula. They did end up needing to do that, though it wasn’t as urgent as she was originally worried it would be. This was where the Iman Vellani was originally built. The crew wouldn’t board it for another two decades. Until then, it sat dormant in its asteroid, protected from the ill effects of the Toliman Nulls that will essentially freeze any sentient entity that attempts to draw near. To protect themselves from that, Future!Mirage placed the Warren in an extremely high orbit from the host star. This kept them at a safe distance at all times until they were ready to head for the asteroid, and enter the Vellani.
“I left it in its orbit to automatically warn anyone else off of trying to get to the solar system. Just because the star was annihilated, doesn’t mean that the Toliman Nulls aren’t still a thing there.”
“Yeah, about that matter-antimatter annihilation,” Sharice began, “are we ever going to do anything about it? Aren’t people going to be surprised that a star in the neighborhood suddenly just disappeared one day?”
“That is the elephant that lives in the room, isn’t it?” Mirage posed.
“It’s a problem for tomorrow,” Brooke decided.
“You mean yesterday,” Belahkay mused.
“Anyway,” Brooke went on, “you two have just been hiding on this ship the whole time? You never came out? You never tried to change anything?”
“Too risky,” Mirage said. “The timeline is complicated enough as it is.”
“No, you’re right,” Brooke agreed. “But perhaps you...made preparations that could help us now that you’ve closed your own loop?”
“Yes,” Mirage said. “I finally understand who reprogrammed the Vellani. It was me. I just hadn’t gone back to the past to do it yet.” She swiped a specific pattern on the wall next to her, which released a hidden compartment. Inside was a secret quantum terminal. She pressed a few buttons, causing a crystal to pop out of the storage drive. She took it out, and held it up. This should contain proof that Verdemus was completely destroyed.”
Belahkay looked down through the viewport on the floor. “No, it’s still there.”
Mirage smiled. “It ought to be.” She shook the crystal a little. “If my plan worked, this should have footage of Toliman b being destroyed instead, and with a little tweaking of the metadata, we can use it to make the Exins believe that it was Verdemus. We’ll even burst in there, and scream at them for making us do that when there is no such thing as a hypercubic crystal lattice.
“You don’t think they’ll come check?” a skeptical Brooke asked.
“Radiation,” Sharice offered. “We’ll say that this whole region of space has been irradiated. You can’t exactly tear a planet apart with a giant space knife.”
“Don’t their ships have shielding, same as ours?”
“No, I once got a quick look at their hull coding. They’re gamma rated for zero-point-five-l. They don’t have an e-rating. I doubt they’ve even heard of superenergetic particles. All we have to do is claim that the process we used necessarily emits exotic particles, and they’ll stay away.”
“How could they have not heard of SEPs?” Mirage questioned. “They have time travel, don’t they? That’s why come they’ve been a civilization for thousands of years, even though they were founded only a few decades ago.”
“I think that technology was lost,” Sharice argued, “perhaps intentionally. The Exins we met could be just as oppressed as the rest of the empire.”
“We’re banking a lot on that idea we brought up a while back about how disorganized they are,” Brooke warned. “We may be wholly misinterpreting that. They could have e-rated shielding, but we’ve just not seen it. Shari, you didn’t get a look at the hull coding for even every vessel in the fleet.”
“I’m confident on this,” Sharice insisted. “They won’t go near it, especially if we sell the lie. We know that there is no hypercubic crystal lattice in the core of this planet. How could we know that if we didn’t do as they asked?”
Mirage and Brooke both shook their heads, unsure if this was all worth the risk. The bad guys wanted the Verdemusians dead, whether by the crew’s hands, or someone else’s. They could have a backup team lying in wait. “What if the crystal lattice does exist? What if Spirit is wrong about that?”
“I’m not.” Spirit was leaning against the doorway. “But if you feel more comfortable, why don’t you test it? See for yourself if it’s there.”
“We can’t destroy a whole world on the off-chance,” Sharice contended. “That would defeat the purpose.”
“It doesn’t have to be permanent,” Spirit reasoned. “Tear it apart, and then go back in time to stop yourself from doing it. All the humans will be up in space, just in case something goes wrong, but you might as well check for yourself, right?”
“Are you suggesting we used the homestone to reverse it?” Mirage asked her.
“No, you don’t just have a rewinder on this thing? It has everything else.”
“We’re less time travelers, and more associated with time travelers,” Mirage explained. “I mean, we’ve all broken the conventional laws of physics, of course, but...no, I didn’t engineer a time rewinder on the Iman Vellani.”
“Yes, you did.” Someone else was there, standing against the other doorway. It was Mirage. It was some other version of Mirage.”
Present!Mirage sighed, more annoyed than shocked. “What the hell?”
Future!Mirage glided over to the opposite wall, and swiped a pattern on it to reveal a secret control terminal. “This is preprogrammed to reverse time by one year, but you can adjust it as necessary. You still need to build the planet-destroying machine, but I’m sure you already have an idea or two about that.”
“Yeah, I’ve never been worried about that,” Present!Mirage confirmed. “It’s just a simple transdimensional gravity beam. I just don’t know about this. I don’t like fudging with time, or gravity. What’s to stop us from going back, and avoiding all of this?”
“If you weren’t here,” Spirit began, “you would not have been able to save my friend, Tinaya’s life.”
“Or mine,” Lilac said, also coming into the room. “And who knows what would have happened to the children? You can’t undo anything.”
“Except for destroying the planet,” Present!Mirage countered.
“Except for that,” Future!Mirage agreed. Without another word, she gradually faded away until she was completely gone.
“I think you just erased her from the future,” Belahkay guessed.
“Whatever,” Mirage said. “It’s not up to her anyway. We vote. Everyone votes, including Tinaya. We’ll stick her mind into the virtual construct, and get an answer.”
Everyone?” Lilac pressed.
“Yes,” Mirage replied, “including your alternate self.”
“I don’t have an alternate self,” Lilac revealed. “We are one now.”
“How did you manage that?” Brooke asked.
“I don’t know. It just happened.”
Mirage smirked. She knew how it was done.
“No, I’m talking about the prisoner, Ilias Tamm,” Lilac clarified.
“Prisoners have rights,” Brooke said adamantly. “This is his planet too, and he has the right to have a say in what’s done with it. We’ll explain the stakes to him, as well as to the children. I agree, everyone votes, and it must be unanimous.”
A year later, Verdemus was torn apart by transdimensional artificial gravity, which supposedly released exotic particles in the region that rendered a radius of fifty light years too dangerous for normal ships to survive. Exotic particles were actually just very, very, very energetic particles that were extremely difficult to shield against. They were capable of passing through an entire planet, kind of like neutrinos, but destructive to baryonic matter. They aided in time travel tech so the only way to shield against them was by manipulating spacetime, essentially forcing them to pass along the shielding on a new vector, rather than through it, and then letting them go once they were on the other side. They were rare, and the crew didn’t think that the Exins understood them enough to have what was called an e-rating, so it was safe to make this claim.
Only the crew plus Spirit Bridger was on board the Iman Vellani Proper. The rest were on the Vellani Ambassador, which meant that they did not go back in time. Once the timeline was reset, they had no recollection of the past year, because they had never experienced it. They knew that it had happened, but now they were able to move on with their lives from here, safe on Verdemus, protected by a fake bubble of exotic radiation. Belahkay and Spirit got to know each other for the course of that undone year, and both could remember the relationship that was kindled by it. They wanted to see where it was going, so he left the ship and stayed behind on Verdemus. Mirage gave them and the rest of the Verdemusians a shuttle that could be used for interplanetary travel, or very slow interstellar travel, if they ever needed to evacuate. It could not reach fractional speeds, and definitely didn’t have a reframe engine, so their options were limited. But at least they weren’t singular, which was what they were facing without the crew’s arrival and intervention.
Brooke and Sharice took the ship off into the black, and quite deliberately told no one where they were going. They had to do this, because the Vellani needed to stay off the radar for the foreseeable future. Its discovery would ruin the lie that Mirage was about to tell Ex-10 regarding the fate of Verdemus, the Verdemusians, the ship, and her crew. At the rendezvous point, she teleported over from the Vellani Ambassador, and just started to wail on him for killing her crew. It took nearly twenty faceless stormtroopers with chains to get her off of him. She was pulling her punches, though. She didn’t want to kill him, she just wanted to sell the rage that she was supposedly experiencing due to what happened. They stuck her in hock while they healed their leader, and let her stew a bit.
A few days later, he came to visit her, as calm as ever, and apparently not vengeful from her attack. “Start at the beginning. What happened?”
Mirage prepared herself to solidify the cover-up. “We did what you asked. We went to the planet in question. There were people on it, but not too many, so we pulled them up to our ship, and got back to work. They protested, but we were there to do a job, so we ignored them. I built a machine that uses transdimensional energy to manipulate gravity, which ripped the planet apart, and do you know what I found there?”
“Nothing?”
“Oh, so you know. There’s no such thing as hypercubic crystal lattice.”
“No. We just wanted you to destroy the world. It is of utmost importance that the people you found living there did not multiply. They are our sworn enemies, and they were in a position of great strategic advantage. They were too close to the new antistar, and we couldn’t have that. It’s fine that you saved the ones who were already there, though. We don’t have any strong feelings about them as individuals.”
“Oh, I didn’t save them, you asshole. Have you ever heard of exotic particles?”
“Yes. But I admittedly don’t know what they are.”
“I don’t either, but they’re deadly. I was in charge of supplying the power, so I was far enough away, and naturally shielded, when we turned on the machine, but my crew was not so lucky. They were bombarded with highly energetic particle radiation, and killed. They didn’t die right away. No, it took time, but all of their cells were split, their DNA unraveled, and their inorganic parts degraded extremely rapidly. They may have been able to transfer their consciousnesses to new substrates, but those would have been destroyed too. They insisted that I escape to get my revenge before too much of the radiation could get to me on the other side of the host star that we were using as a power source. You let me out of here, and that is exactly what I will do. Or you could come in here, I’m not picky.” She was doing a pretty good job in this role. It didn’t hurt that if any of this were true, she probably would actually react this way.
Ex-10 smiled, almost kindly, likely because he felt that he was in a position of safety and power. “Well, then I suppose I will have to never let you out, except to transfer you to our penal colony.”
Mirage suspected that this might happen, which was why she programmed the Vellani Ambassador to turn invisible and escape under certain conditions, such as her absence for a week. “I will get out eventually, even if it takes me a hundred years. I’m gonna live forever.”
“And I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’ll be dead by then. I decidedly won’t live forever, so I’m not worried.” He lifted his radio. “This is Ex-10. Plot a course to Ex-666. Warn them too, so they have time to make arrangements for a special new prisoner.”