Saturday, June 19, 2021

Sic Transit... Pueritia (Part V)

The Transit pierced the membrane, and crossed through to the other side without an issue, but they couldn’t go straight to their destination. Hyperdimensional physics is too complicated to fathom for most people, but thinking in terms of a bunch of universes floating in a vat is good enough for analogy’s sake. Looking at it this way, it’s easy to see that some branes are close to each other, and others are not. Meliora, Limerick, and Treasure can only travel to nearby branes. If they tried to go further, they would probably die in the equilibrium of the outer bulkverse. It is not a hospitable environment, and since there would be nothing protecting them, they wouldn’t last long enough to reach another membrane. Zoey Attar is different in that she wears a special suit that keeps her alive, but the further she wants to travel, the longer it will take. She’s still a little limited, because she can’t get up and move around while she waits. Fortunately, time in the outer bulkverse does not pass the same way it does inside of any given universe. Again, hyperdimensional physics. It does still pass, but people don’t age, and their bodies metabolize chemicals much slower. All that being said, according to clocks inside the ship, about five days passed before they were at the pit stop.
“This universe doesn’t have a name,” Azura started to explain just before they pierced the second membrane. “All I know is that its human inhabitants successfully made it through their Great Filter. Barring Ochivari invasion, they would be virtually impossible to destroy as they have now spread out across their galaxy. Their proper physics are reminiscent of what you might find in the Composite Universe, or your home, Universum Originalis.”
“What’s proper physics?” Gamma asked. “Isn’t all physics proper? Or am I translating that word wrong?”
“Proper physics refers to the set of physical laws specific to a given universe. Some laws are multiversal, like the fact that light moves faster than sound, or temperature usually flows spontaneously from hot to cold. Others can change. Not everyone has plex dimensions that they can use for interstellar travel. Treasure’s mother’s brane doesn’t. Her father’s doesn’t even have any form of FTL. This universe does.” She turned to watch the show. They broke through the barrier, and started flying through the air of whatever planet they were now on. Azura switched on the viewscreens, so they could see the trees before them, and a city off in the middle distance. They were pretty low to the ground. “And they use it well.”
Apparently through an automated subroutine, the Transit’s horn blared for presumably the entire frickin’ solar system to hear. Treasure wasn’t sure why the Maramon would want to announce their arrival, but it confirmed that its shape was no coincidence. They really did design it to be a space train. As they were slowing down to come to a stop, the viewports finally became transparent, and showed them the outside. They saw people stopped on a highway, watching this alien vessel fly by. As they slowed down more, they could make out faces of people who were surprised, but not frightened. They didn’t know this was coming, but they weren’t too worried about it.
Just as planned, they stopped at the entrance to an architectural marvel. It wasn’t designed with any practicality in mind, but to mostly be a giant art piece that people could walk in. If Treasure had to use one word to describe it, she would probably go with palace. As they were exiting the ship, guardsmen filed out, and took position up and down the steps. A woman in fancy attire stepped outside, and walked forward with a strong air of authority.
Azura approached her as nonaggressively as possible. She spoke into Olkan’s tiara, which could evidently amplify sound as well as translate thoughts. “Oh, Wise Leader, we come to you, tails between legs, hearts on sleeves, and as honest as the sun. We were marooned on a foreign world, with only enough energy to make one final jump. We chose to come to you, hoping that you should see fit to aid us in our attempt to return home. We require multiple advanced energy source replacements, and will do anything you ask as payment.”
The leader walked up to a microphone as the lectern rose up from a trap door. She cleared her throat. “We are cognizant of The Transit, and its purpose. And we understand the nonlinear nature of adjusted time. Is this the origin of The Transit Army?”
“We do not know,” Azura replied. “Our current plan is to return home. As for what happens to this vessel after that, we could be part of it, or we might not. We too know what becomes of it, but we are unaware of our level of involvement. Myself and this one here are the most likely to stay on board, we admit.” She indicated Treasure.
The leader chuckled once. “I would like to speak with Miss Hawthorne alone. The rest of you will be escorted to visitor housing.”
Azura didn’t see this coming, and didn’t like to be left out, but she kept her composure, and remained respectful. She nodded, and started to walk away.
“But first,” the leader stopped her, “please give her back her tiara. Her bare head makes me uncomfortable.” That was weird.
“Your future is in their past.” Azura placed the tiara in Treasure’s hand, but didn’t let go right away. “Be careful what you let them tell you. Causality breaks down when you travel the bulk.”
Treasure remembered the warning as she was following the leader into the palace, Quino right at her flank.
“No, no, no,” the leader argued. “Just her.”
“I am her bodyguard,” Quino defied. “She goes, I go.” That wasn’t the truth, but it was probably a good idea, seeing as that Treasure avoided combat training as she was growing up. They made it available to her, if she wanted it, but she never did. She wasn’t a pacifist, but she wasn’t a fighter either.
“Very well.”
“Thank you for the invitation, Wise Leader,” Treasure said once they were in the office, hoping it was the right and polite thing to say. “We appreciate it.”
The leader closed her eyes gently, and nodded slightly. “I am Principa Hoyvanen, and I knew you when I was a little girl. You never told me that I would become Principa one day. You acted like our meeting was an accident, and could have happened to anyone.”
“Perhaps it was,” Treasure acknowledged. “And perhaps, we shouldn’t be talking about this. It could be dangerous.”
Principa Hoyvanen dismissed this. “Have no fear, it is a stable time loop. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m only here to bring the truth to the surface of your consciousness. That tiara you wear, the man who once owned it no longer needs it. He speaks all the languages he’ll ever need. It is yours now, and you will need it. As you’ve learned, every time you speak, you release a little bit of bulk energy. It disperses from there, spread so thin that it cannot be used. In order to conserve this energy, you must silence yourself. The less you speak, the less you lose, the more you have to power your trips. It is almost worthy of a song.”
“How does the tiara help me with that?” Treasure asked
“It can boost this energy. Well, that’s not the word you used. It was...”
“Sharpen,” Treasure guessed. That was the word she would have used, had she figured all this out herself.
“Yes, sharpen,” the Principa echoed. “It doesn’t let you make any more energy than is already there, but it helps you focus. When you scream, and release all that bulk energy, some of it goes into opening a portal, and delivering you to your destination. Some of it is wasted. The tiara cuts down on that waste. It’ll help you only release as much energy as you need to reach your destination. You’ll still need to learn to control it better, but you will. I know it as fact.”
“Well, thank you. However, that can get me home. You say nothing of The Transit.”
“The Transit is not my problem.” Hoyvanen gestured around her in general. “We have found harmony with our world. The Ochivari will not attack us. When you are ready, you will transport these people back to their respective homes, and then you will move on with your lives.”
“The Transit then stays here.” Treasure realized this was what the people of this world wanted all along.
“Do not concern yourself with the Transit,” she said, hoping her position as leader would prevent Treasure from questioning any further.
Treasure was sixteen Earth years old. She was not quite an adult, and still had a lot to learn about the worlds. She thought she was ready to go out, and make her own choices. She came to the realization while she was brooding in her train car alone that this was the wrong call. She should have trusted her parents, and surrendered to the process. None of that could be undone now, though, and she had no other choice but to act like the adult she once thought she was. This Wise Leader was the ruler of a foreign world, and while she deserved respect, she was not Treasure’s ruler, and she didn’t have to do what she said. “Azura lays claim to it. My mother was seeking it. And I control it. I can leave here right now, with all my crew, and go find another world that will provide us with the tools it needs to keep going. It doesn’t actually need these tools, however, as long as it has me. I won’t leave it behind until I’m sure it can run independently, and that it’s in the right hands. I do not believe yours are those hands.”
“That may be,” Hoyvanen began, “but this is my world, and I am holding all the cards.”
“I have a few cards myself,” Quino revealed. “It’s already been programmed to deliver you to your evacuation planet. The trip will be short.” He removed a sort of kazoo-lookin’ thing from his breast pocket, and slammed it on the ground. An orange light shot out from the larger opening, and overwhelmed Hoyvanen and the two guardsmen behind her. In a flash, they were gone, along with every object and piece of furniture that was on that side of the room. He lifted his wrist, and spoke into his communicator, “Badjob, fall back.” He then took Treasure by the hand, and escorted her out. He didn’t rush, or look panicked. The guards they passed had no idea that their ruler had just been spirited away to another planet, so they just assumed the conversation was over, and the two visitors were on their way somewhere else.
Once they were outside, they moved a little quicker, worried that someone would start to get wise before they retreated into the Transit. Azura and the Verteans were coming out of visitor housing, and on an intercept course. Two of them were carrying something that looked pretty heavy, but it was covered with a tarp. This was what aroused suspicion. The guards took offensive positions, and sought out orders from their superiors. They were too late, though. The crew made it into their ship, and closed the doors before anyone could fire a single shot.
“Problem,” Treasure said simply once they were all safe inside.
“You’ve been talking too much,” Azura guessed. “You don’t have enough bulk energy to get us out of here.
“Based on what little experience I have with this,” Treasure said, “I don’t think so. I could probably get all of us out of this universe, but not the whole Transit. Kind of the whole reason we have to bail is because the Principa was hoping to steal it, so I feel like it would be counterproductive to leave it behind.”
“We’re not doing that,” Azura agreed. “This thing is far too important to hand it over to just one brane. It’s destined to save all of humanity, and the only two people I can confidently say will work towards that goal are myself, and your mother.”
“Can they break through?” Hadron questioned. “Is the bulkhead strong enough to withstand their attacks?”
“Over a prolonged period of time?” Azura assumed. “Probably not. It’s strong, it’s powerful, but it’s not impregnable. They’ll find its weakest spot, and once they’re in, they’re in.”
“Will this help?” Gamma asked as she and Alluvia removed the tarp from the object they stole. Treasure had no idea what it was.
“Fusion reactor.” Azura gave it a quick inspection.
“Take it to Onboard Weapons. “Hopefully we’ll deter retaliation until Treasure is ready to take us out of here. Speaking of which.” She turned to face her.
Treasure mimed zipping her lips shut, and locking them up.
“Good girl. Breathe, though. I think breathing will help. Don’t power up weapons!” Azura called over to the ones taking the fusion reactor away. “I don’t want to make the first move, just get it connected!”
Breathing did help, as Azura predicted, but it wasn’t nearly enough. She had just been talking too much, and it was gonna get them killed. The guardsmen fired the first shot, and while they were frightened by the Transit’s onboard weapons system, they held their ground, and strategized. If Treasure was going to get them out of here before a hull breach, she needed to accelerate the absorption of bulk energy that her body could accept. Her instinct was telling her to cut herself. It was like the opposite of bloodletting, or trepanation. Instead of wanting something out, she wanted to let more of something in, and honestly, if felt amazing. If she wasn’t careful, she could probably become addicted to it.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Microstory 1650: Breathe Freely

There are two types of voldisil in my universe; natural-born voldisil, and kenvoldisil, which are given their spirit abilities by regular voldisil. We actually say, though, that the voldisil passes on their spirit. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often, because it comes with a price. Losing one’s spirit is not like losing one’s soul. They may sound like synonyms, but it’s more like the spirit is part of one’s soul. Not everyone has one, but if they do, they can’t lose it without also losing their lives. Most of the time, when one chooses to create a kenvoldisil, it’s because they’re dying anyway, and they believe their spirit has more work to do on this Earth. They just have to hope that the person they choose is worthy, and will use the abilities wisely. Landis Tipton is one such kenvoldisil, but he did not just receive one spirit; he received five, and not because he was deemed worthy, but because he was the only choice. Five voldisil friends were all attacked by a powerful and angry sixth voldisil, and they knew that their time was up. They ran off, looking for a new group of five to take up the mantle. Unfortunately, it was a late hour, and they were in a sparsely populated part of town, so they only managed to find Landis. Still, they had to do something, so with their final breaths, they drove their spirits into him. They didn’t even have time to explain to him what they were, what he now was, and what he was meant to do with his new gifts. Separately, the abilities had many great uses. They were fit for a team looking to do some good. Combined, the applications were less useful, so he really just focused on one. Landis now had the ability to see someone’s regrets, smell their health, hear their desires, feel their pain, and taste their lies.

Without a team, Landis didn’t know what he was supposed to do with his life now. Should he become a therapist, and help people overcome their problems by knowing their regrets and desires? Could he become a human lie detector, helping the authorities catch criminals? Or should he diagnose medical conditions, and relay that information to medical professionals? Well, what he realized was that the original five voldisil probably weren’t using their spirit gifts in the best way possible. They were helping one person—or maybe one small group—at a time. He wasn’t even sure whether they knew that their abilities could be reversed. When he looked at someone, he could witness events of their past that they wished never happened, but when they looked into his eyes, he could show them their potential. Their voice could tell him what they want, while his voice could comfort them, and make them feel satisfied with their lives. He could sense pain, and take it away with touch. He could taste lies, but also force them to tell the truth. But the most important ability he now possessed was the only one he ended up really using. His nose could detect health, but his breath could heal. Once he discovered this, everything changed. He sat down, and made a plan, and then he carried out that plan exquisitely. He first approached the wealthiest man in the city who was publicly known to be presently having health issues. He made a deal. Give Landis a thousand dollars right now on the chance that Landis could heal him, and then the rest of the million dollars once the oncologist told him he was cured. Of course, the man was hesitant, but a thousand bucks was nothing to him, and he had tried everything else, so he might as well give it a shot.

A few weeks later, Landis was a millionaire. He didn’t just spend the money on fast cars, and small-portion food, though. He asked the man to reach out to his other sick, but rich, friends, and got himself a few more million dollars, and then Landis bought a hotel. He cleared out all the guests, hired a growing team, and started a foundation. He brought in people one by one. They literally stood in line, and waited their turn to be healed. He didn’t always charge them, though. Much of the pre-work that needed to be done involved looking over every patient’s finances to determine which category they fit into. The rich people paid, the less rich people didn’t pay anything, and poor people actually received money. It was just free money that Landis gave them, along with the cure for what ailed them, from an account that was funded by the wealthiest of patients. As word spread, the operation was able to expand. A security team maintained order in the ballroom. A video played in the entertainment room, explaining to people what they were here for, and why it worked the way it worked. Just about all his staff members lived in the hotel, which was why he chose it in the first place, instead of a gymnasium, or something. It was a complicated, and extremely efficient program, which served to cure literally millions of people over the course of several years. He didn’t do much but work. Someone came into the room, he breathed on them, and then they left to make room for the next one. He worked for about ten hours every day, stopping only to use the restroom, and eat. In the evening, he had a nice dinner, enjoyed an hour-long massage, then started his nightshift, which was... Well, it was different. Let’s just say that certain women were...interested in...seeing if his abilities could be...passed onto a new generation. Landis took this part of his job seriously, and was doing it for all the right reasons, but he didn’t apologize for not hating it, nor for screening the candidates personally. In the end, Landis saved billions of lives once researchers were able to replicate his healing abilities—and only his healing abilities—for mass production. He was inarguably the most important voldisil in our history.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Microstory 1649: Birth of a Brane

This will be the last new universe that I tell you about. The next fifty little stories will give you some more information about the previously discussed universes, in the same order. They may just contain more details that I didn’t mention before, or specific stories that, in some way, encapsulate what it’s like to live in these places. I’ve talked about the Maramon before, and told you that they came from a universe called Ansutah, but I’ve yet to describe that universe for you. It’s one of the smaller ones, and I mean that literally. Natural branes are infinitely large, meaning that they keep expanding as time within the membrane persists. Where one ends is synonymous with when it ends, because the size is a function of time more than it is space. C-branes operate differently, however. They’re only as large as they need to be in order to fit the story within, and to satisfy its characters. If said characters have no need to travel to the next star over, then that star will not exist. They may think that it exists. They may even be able to observe it. But it will not really be there. It will be a hologram, and only when something changes about their future will that universe expand in order to allow them to go there. Until that happens, this hologram is being projected on the inside of the membrane. It’s like a big wall that would kill you if you crashed into it, but as I said, that doesn’t matter, because it’s impossible to reach that wall. The universe will grow at least as fast as you can fly through space. Unless you’re in Ansutah. This is because Ansutah is not entirely a c-brane. It’s not entirely natural either, but it is complicated, and its limitations provide for a terrible little exception, which forced the residents to reassess their values.

Salmonverse is both a natural brane, and a c-brane, because of The Superintendent’s access to it, and his uses for it. At one point, a spaceship left a rogue planet called Durus, bound for a return trip to Earth. This ship was only designed to accommodate a small crew, and maybe a few passengers. It just wasn’t that big, because it didn’t originally need to be. Due to some socio-political issues, the crew decided to adapt the ship, so that it could fit dozens more people. They couldn’t build extensions, because the engines wouldn’t be able to handle more mass. They installed pocket dimension generators, which gave them extra space, without making the ship proper any larger. Something went wrong in one of these pockets. A girl was born with the power to make the pocket grow, and a boy was born who could conjure entire beings. Now, even a pocket dimension generator has limits, so the only solution—if they couldn’t simply put a stop to the growth—was to separate the pocket from the ship, and indeed, Salmonverse itself. This was how Ansutah was born. It should have continued expanding from there, but the girl was taken from the world just before the connection was destroyed. This started causing problems for the ship, and also stunted the growth of Ansutah, limiting them to a very tiny solar system, and a wall that actually could be reached. The boy, meanwhile, continued to breathe life into the world, and these Maramon started to procreate on their own, and over the millennia, the population rose to the billions. They didn’t know that their universe was limited, or that they would collide with the membrane in an attempt to explore the stars. Once they learned this, they grew angry, but it didn’t stop them from propagating the species. As they were hunting for a workaround, the population continued to climb, making their efforts all the more vital.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Microstory 1648: Regal Sea Goddess

Image credit: Greg McFall (NOAA's National Ocean Service)
The penultimate universe I’ll discuss for this series doesn’t have a name, because there isn’t a strong enough defining characteristic. Yes, all relevant stories are about a group of superheroes, who fight against a group of supervillains, but there are many branes like that. The first of the heroes came about in the early 1980s. Her work was relatively shortlived, and her only responsibility was to go against regular criminals. Her decision to become the first would fuel the heroes of tomorrow, and also the villains, who were at first, pretending to be heroes. She basically became an excuse for people to dress up in costumes, conceal their identities, and operate outside of the law. People didn’t know what to think when Sea Goddess showed up on the scene in her colorful frilly outfit, and started fighting crime. They didn’t have the concept of a superhero. Comic books were predominantly about angsty teens, and exceptional athletes. They had heard of vigilantes, though, and they knew that what she was doing was against the law. Still, she seemed to be trying to do some good, so law enforcement just kind of stayed out of her way. They didn’t help her, but they didn’t actively try to apprehend her. It became an unwritten rule that if a cop happened across her that they look the other way, and act like it didn’t happen. Sea Goddess’ real name was Shanti Gideon, and she didn’t have some sad story about why she wanted to clean up the streets. She won a somewhat modest amount of money in the lottery, which allowed her to quit her boring job, and now she didn’t have anything better to do. Superheroing passed the time, and gave her purpose, and most people seemed to appreciate it. Obviously, not everyone.

Sea Goddess named herself for a species of underwater creatures called nudibranchs. She took on characteristics of the animal, primarily by wielding harsh chemicals. One of the chemicals put her victims to sleep, while another just tasted bad, and overwhelmed them to the point where they couldn’t fight anymore. She did have one lethal poison that she only used once as a last resort, and it was her final mission before she disappeared. No one knew what happened to her after that. Some believed that she was murdered in retaliation for the mobster that she killed when she was backed into a corner. Others thought that she was always part of some rival gang, and was reassigned to somewhere else. Most people rightly assumed that she retired, having regretted taking a life, and not being able to make up for it. Instead, she dedicated herself to helping others in more traditional ways, by donating to charity, and volunteering. Her identity was never at risk, and she told no one the truth about who she had been. The police reluctantly pursued the mobster’s killer, but came up with no leads, and eventually just let it turn into a cold case. Even if they thought she deserved to be locked up, no one wanted to be the cop who actually did it. Her legacy lived on after this, but it would be decades before anyone truly followed in her footsteps. A support group for people who had been traumatized, and were now lost in the world, was designed with levels. You level up, you learn more about the organization. The middle levels revealed it to be a source of recruitment for superheroes, but the higher levels revealed that it was actually a front for criminals. Upon realizing this, real superheroes had to rise up, and do everything they could to stop them. Once they did, however it wasn’t like their job was over. New threats came along, and perhaps Sea Goddess would have to come out of hiding.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Microstory 1647: Biological Soulmates

There are a few different universes that have the same, or similar, rules about this sort of thing, but I’ll only talk about the one. Evolution is a pretty simple concept when you really get down to it. A mutation occurs in an individual specimen. If it doesn’t prevent that individual from surviving, that trait is more likely to be passed down to the next generation. It doesn’t matter if the trait is good or bad. It only has to be good enough to survive in the bloodline (i.e. to not prevent that bloodline from continuing). There are some evolutionary traits that shouldn’t exist, and some have suggested that this is evidence that some higher power is up there, making decisions. I don’t think that’s true, but the universe today is crazy enough to make me doubt my faith in science. When two members of the opposite sex have intercourse for the first time, they will be forever bonded to each other, on multiple levels. They will release chemicals that not only prevent them from producing children with different partners, but also from even having sex with other people. If they try, it will hurt. Two sexually incompatible partners who attempt to join will both be flooded with painful chemicals that flow throughout their bodies, and don’t stop until the sex stops. Other universes have similar compatibility limitations, but don’t take it this far. They can still choose multiple partners, it’s just that they can only produce offspring with their so-called soulmates. Why did evolution come up with this? What could possibly drive such a ridiculous series of traits? Well, the obvious answer is that forcing a single soulmate encourages the family dynamic, which supports the stable upbringing of a child. But is that enough? Apparently so, but it doesn’t make much sense; not according to evolutionary biology.

As I was saying, an evolutionary trait will persist down the bloodline if it doesn’t prevent the bloodline itself from persisting. This should not have happened in this case. The first sign of this incompatibility trait should have been stopped shortly after the mutation appeared. Most animals copulate with multiple partners. They’re all just trying to pass their genetic information onto their descendants. It’s the number one biological imperative. Restricting an individual to one lifelong partner is fine for humans, and a few other animals, but only when it’s a choice, or rather, only when it’s not the only avenue. Most of the time, monogamy is not a very good survival trait, and it doesn’t always support the biological imperative. Sure, perhaps a child is better off being raised consistently by two parents, but evolution isn’t about the survival of an individual. It’s about the continuity of the species as a whole, and math tells us that having a lot of children has been the default tactic for most of evolutionary history. Monogamy only works well when you have options, not when it’s unavoidable. What if the father dies after only producing one child? It’s up to that child to continue the bloodline, and if it also dies, then it’s over. It’s much better if the mother can go find another partner, and give their first child half-siblings. While the original father’s genetic traits may end, at least hers has a chance to go on. All this being said, the arguments against this sort of thing don’t seem to have stopped it from happening to the humans who evolved in this universe, so there must be some significant benefit that I’m not seeing. Despite the bizarre constraints, the residents have been quite successful, and even prosperous.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Microstory 1646: Symbiosis

Nearly all evolved life is human, or at least based on human DNA, if only a little. There are variants of humans, some of which are created through genetic engineering, but they can also be brought about by minute changes in a given environment across the bulkverse. They actually evolve to be slightly different. They’re still human, but they’re probably genetically incompatible with other humans, and they sometimes have noticeable differences. There’s one noteworthy example I won’t spell out for you, but basically the males of the species keep something inside their bodies, which are usually kept on the outside. They’re able to do this because a component of their blood allows them to regulate temperature more efficiently, and keep different parts of their bodies at different temperatures. It’s a survival trait that appeared as a response to wild external temperature fluctuations, which forced the evolutionary line to prioritize vital organs over extremities. Anyway, that’s not what this story is about. It’s about an entirely different population in an entirely separate universe. First, let me give you a quick overview of symbiosis. A symbiotic relationship happens when two specimens of two unrelated species will live together in some way. This can be as simple as a bird making its nest in a tree without harming the tree, or as horrifying as a parasite that burrows into an insect’s brain, and turns into a zombie. Some forms of symbiosis are good, some are bad, some are necessary, and some are just not a problem. Every human carries with it trillions of bacteria in their microbiome, a lot of which are critical to survival. Without these particular bacteria, the human would die. They process food, and protect the skin. But Nevilereverse takes that a step further, and evolved a version of humans that are host to a much more complex species, which are called the nevileres.

A nevilere is a medium-sized rodent that will live in a hump on the back of the human, just under the neck. The evolutionary road that brought the two species to this point was a long and windy one, but the gist of it is that the nevilere started living in the hump for obvious reasons; as protection against predators, but it also does the same for the human. It can send an electrical signal through the human’s nervous system, which alerts it to nearby danger. Some say this warning is more than just the result of hypervigilance, and is actually prescience, but the science doesn’t fully support that. It doesn’t rule it out either, though. In the modern day, such danger is less of a problem. There are generally no predators lurking in the city streets, waiting to pounce. It does happen, of course, and the would-be victim still benefits from the warning, but for the most part, the relationship has become commensalistic, in that it’s beneficial to one, and not harmful to the other. The relationship remains tight, however. When two people come together to procreate, their respective nevileres will procreate as well, and not long after the human baby is born, the nevilere offspring will be placed inside the baby’s hump. This is interesting, because the baby nevilere will always be the same sex as the human baby, and this will remain true forever, even if the human turns out to be transgender. It will actually spontaneously switch sexes as a response to the change in hormones that the human is producing. This was how the Nevilereversals evolved, and it makes perfect sense to them. A healthy human will love their nevilere. It’s like a pet to them, but the bond can be even stronger, because it will not die until the host dies.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: Tuesday, October 21, 2228

Now back on Earth once more, the AOC teleported to the transition window, and the crew waited for it to open. When it did, about a dozen men and women were standing there, holding weapons. They were extremely confused, having never seen any form of time travel before. Mateo decided it was best that he approach alone, with his hands up. “We mean you no harm,” he promised. “Why don’t you go ahead and put down those guns? You don’t need them here.”
They quickly retrained their guns on him. “What is this?” one of the men questioned. “Some kind of holo-trick?”
“Not a trick,” Mateo said. “You’re in a different reality. Whatever quarrel you have in the other world, it doesn’t exist here.”
“Bullshit!” he fought back. “Hold steady, boys! They’re just trying to get us to give up!”
“Give up what?” Mateo asked.
“Our land!”
“Who’s trying to take your land?”
“Like you don’t know.”
“Assume I don’t. You ever given anyone the benefit of the doubt before? What if I’m not lying? What if it turns out you’re pointing those things at friends, rather than enemies? How bad would you feel if you pulled the triggers, and you were wrong.”
The man faltered, but did not relent.
“Tell me your story. Perhaps I can help.”
The man waited a moment to respond. Then he eased himself, and held up three fingers. Everyone else lowered their weapons as well, except for three of them. They were clearly a team, since they knew which three his instructions were referring to. They were all dressed differently, though; not wearing uniforms. They didn’t look like soldiers, but farmers. Were they farmers? Was that still a thing? “We’re farmers,” the man explained. “We work at The Last Farm on Earth. Every job—every single job—has been taken over by some robot. We are the last human laborers in the world, and we can’t let go, no matter what you say!”
“I don’t know who’s trying to take your jobs, but I’m not. That’s not me. I’m just here to help. My windows, I don’t control them. They open up, and someone comes through. It’s my job to provide whatever it is they need, so I know how important it is to feel useful.”
“We don’t feel useless. We dig in the dirt with our hands, and we provide for our families, and we like it!”
“I don’t doubt it,” Mateo said. “Keep going. Who were you holding those guns against before the window opened?”
“The government, of course. They want to shut us down. They say we can keep farming in one of those giant towers, but that’s not real farming. That’s more like lab work. We wanna feel the sun on our necks, and the sweat in our eyes, and the bugs on our skin.”
“I get that.” He didn’t. “Why do they want to close the farm?”
“They want to turn it into another nature preserve, as if the world doesn’t already have enough of those already. That’s all there is now! Nowadays, people just live in computers. They don’t struggle. They don’t know the value of work.”
Mateo nodded. Personally, he didn’t care about any of this. Work was dumb, and he always admired the future people for figuring out how to get rid of it. Nerakali probably didn’t open the window to fix their stupid little farming problems. It most likely had something to do with whoever it was they were about to shoot. But still, these people were radicals, and even if he could stop them today, they would take up arms again tomorrow. The transition team wouldn’t be here tomorrow, so the solution had to come now. “All right,” he began. “How much money did you make last season?”
“Money? We don’t have money anymore.”
“Then how are you providing for your family?”
“With the produce that we...produce.”
“Okay. Your only customers are yourselves?”
“No, we distribute to the wandercrafts.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what those are.”
The farmer was taken aback. “They’re hover vehicles that people live in. Instead of arcologies, seasteads, underwater stations, or in space, they fly over the lands, enjoying the beauty of this world.”
“I see, so the establishments provide their own food, but the wandercrafts rely on farms like you to provide.”
“Well, I mean, they can always pop into the nearest arcology for a resupply. And...”
“And what?”
“And we’re the last farm, I told you that.”
“Oh, you did, yeah.” Yeah, Mateo wasn’t really listening to his ranting. “When was the last time a wandercraft came through?”
He mumbled something under his breath.
“I can’t help you if you’re not honest.”
“A year and a half!”
“Jesus, man. You’re not farmers, you’re toilers.”
“It’s just because people don’t—”
“...know the value of work, I get it.” Mateo sighed. Honestly, he tried real hard in the beginning, but his heart wasn’t in this one. It was just so ridiculous, and his mind kept drifting back to his relationship. Things were okay for now. Both of them just wanted to take it slow, and focus on their missions. It looked like that might be coming to an end, however. There just wasn’t a lot of danger in the world anymore, and people like them weren’t so necessary. If a farmers union was their biggest problem, then the main sequencers were probably doing okay too. He spoke into his cuff, “Leona, could you teleport to my location?”
Leona appeared next to him, and the farmers reacted by lifting their weapons once more. She paid them no mind. “Yes, my love?”
“What’s that, uhh....?” Mateo tried to remember. “What was that planet, the first one you went to? When you brought me back to life?”
“Proxima Doma,” she replied.
“And didn’t they have that one dome...?”
“Yeah, the Oblivios live in a special dome, where they think it’s the entire world, and they live like pioneers.”
“Yeah,” Mateo remembered, “you ever heard of that?”
“The Oblivios?” the farmer echoed. “Yeah, we don’t want our memories to be erased.”
“Do you have a better idea?” Mateo asked Leona.
Leona shook her head. “Not in this time period. In the future, there will be other primitive worlds in the stellar neighborhood, but not for a while.”
“Are you immortal?” Mateo asked the farmers.
“No, we’ll die one day, as God intended.”
“You got kids, though.”
“Of course we have kids.” The farmer seemed offended.
“How do they feel about farming?”
“They’ll learn one day, before we die. Our legacy will live on.” He looked proud of the decisions he had made.
Mateo started walking forward with a purpose. “I’m going through the window to take care of this. Please step back, so you don’t get sucked in. We’ll reach out when it’s safe to return.” He didn’t try to contact Nerakali. She was definitely listening at all times. He just kept walking forwards until the window opened up, and delivered him to the main sequence.
Two drones were hovering over the shoulders of a woman. She didn’t seem surprised by his arrival, or by the farmers’ original disappearance. “Greetings. I’m Inês Coleman.”
“I’m here to solve this crisis. I’m pretty sure you were about to die,” Mateo warned.
“That was my guess as well,” Inês agreed.
“Why are you pushing so hard to shut then down?”
“We’re not pushing that hard,” Inês defended. “This is the first time we’ve asked for them to relocate to one of our vertical farms.”
“They don’t want to do that.”
“Yes, I was picking up on that before you transported them to your reality.” Hm. She seemed to understand what he was.
“Just leave them alone. Their kids don’t wanna do this. Their parents will die out, and the era of human labor will officially be over.”
“Yeah, I really just came to make sure they knew all their options. We would love to close this sector. In fact, I’m not allowed to leave this planet until I return the last of the farmland to the wild. I can wait, though. I can wait them out.”
“Very well, so it’s settled.” Mateo turned to go back through the window. “Wait, where do you wanna go?”
“Gatewood,” she answered.
“Are you packed and ready?”
She looked down at herself. “I always have what I need on my person. I’m an elevated human.” Elevated humans were a form of transhumans that focused on biological upgrades, rather than technological implants. They didn’t feel the need to be able to interface with computers, or have superstrength. They just wanted to be able to live pretty much forever, and not worry as much about all the little inconveniences of being a regular human. They could last longer without sleep, rest, or nutrition, but they remained at least a little reliant on such things. They were immune to genetic disorders, and extremely resistant to disease.
“Nerakali, let’s just switch places,” he said into his cuff. “Send the both of us to The Parallel, and return the farmers to their farm in the main sequence.
“Can you really take me to Gatewood?” Inês asked, hope in her eyes. “I know they’re planning a mission there, but it’s classified. We’re all thinking the probe found signs of aliens.”
“I know people.” Mateo assured her. “I can get you there. And no, there aren’t any aliens...yet.”
So Nerakali sent the farmers back to toil in their lands for no reason, and brought Inês through to start a new life. They transported back to Kansas City, where Nerakali opened yet another window, right where some friends were preparing for their mission.
“You want us to take her with us?” Saxon questioned.
“Will that be a problem?” Leona asked.
“It’s a two-person job,” Thor clarified.
“Is there room for a third person?” Leona pressed.
“Space is not the problem,” Saxon replied.
“Then she can go.”
Saxon was suspicious. “What do you know of the future? Is this her destiny?”
“We’re from an alternate reality,” Leona explained. “She wasn’t there before, but she will be this time around.”
“Okay, well we don’t leave for another two and a half years,” Saxon told them.
“That’s fine,” Inês said. “I really appreciate it.”
Thor wasn’t convinced. “You do know that no one lives in the Gatewood Collective, right? We’re meeting up with the only two other people stationed there.”
Mateo smiled. “That’s what you think.”
Thor nodded, knowing it was best he not push the matter. He was different in this reality.
“Good luck,” Mateo said to the trio. “Two to beam up, Madam Preston.”

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Sic Transit...Tempus (Part IV)

Image credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / Gordan Ugarkovic
Treasure felt bad about holing herself up in her train car, and not doing even a little bit to help them all escape this place, or at least find out where they were. She had all this power, and she should have thought to use it. It just didn’t occur to her that she could do any bit of good for their situation. She was sixteen years old, and had yet to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Explorer was the best that she could figure, because of her bulk traveling abilities, but that wasn’t a job; not really. “I’m sorry,” she felt compelled to say, as they were all making the trek to the front of the train, where the main engines were.
“I hope you’re not worried about it,” Azura said. “You couldn’t have known you would magically be able to activate the computer systems. If anyone should have realized that, it should have been me. Now I realize that the reason the computers worked sometimes is because of residual bulk energy that my body has absorbed. It also explains why it gets less and less reliable each time, as the energy dissolves like nitrogen. You, on the other hand, probably produce bulk energy, which is why you’re able to spontaneously open shatter portals. I’m sure your father does as well.”
“Does that mean I don’t actually need to scream to make it happen? Could I just do it on my own, maybe by punching?”
“It’s possible. I’m no expert, I just have experience. It’s also entirely possible that producing bulk energy isn’t enough, that you need some way to harness it. It could be like visual processing and interpretation. Your brain is the thing that’s capable of processing the light it receives from external sources, but you still need eyes to receive that light. The brain wouldn’t be able to do it on its own. My guess is that your scream is like the organ that can actually use the energy in your body.”
“What’s wrong with my voice now? My neck is healed, but I can’t speak louder than a whisper, let alone scream.”
“You suffer from vocal cord paresis. I patched you up, and your body is healing, but I don’t have the skills or tools to make a sufficient prognosis. might continue to improve. I’m sure there are exercises you can do with your throat that aid recovery, but I’m not cognizant of them, so for now, keep using that tiara, and rest.”
“It’s weird that this tiara was in the medkit,” Treasure pointed out. “Do people get shot in the throat a lot?”
Azura laughed. “That’s not designed for people who can’t speak. Vertean is the primary language in their universe during that time period, but there are a few planets who developed mostly independently, and created their own languages. That tiara lets Olkan communicate with others. It reads brainwaves, instead of translating voices.”
“Who’s Olkan?” Treasure asked.
“That guy right there.” Azura gestured towards one of the men behind them. He didn’t speak English but he recognized his own name, and knew they were talking about him.
“Oh. I should give it back,” Treasure said, hoping to not actually have to do that.
“It’s fine. He knows a little Vertean, and is getting by. He knows you need it more. They’re good people, once you get to know them. We were on the opposite sides of a war that should never have begun, but their cause is not without its merits. I even agree with them on principle, just not with their methods.”
They were finally in engineering. The systems, including the engines, finally booted up, and Treasure could feel the sense of relief in the room. They had been working on this for so long, and now we had hope. They all went their separate ways, and started working at their respective stations. Apparently, Azura taught the Verteans some Maramon, so they could get going. They were all clearly getting stuck, though.
“Okay,” Azura said. “I could use your tiara just temporarily, though. If we interface it with the computer, it will be able to—”
“Translate to their native tongue,” Treasure finished. “Of course.” She removed it from her head, and handed it over. Then she stood in silence, and watched them work. It was then that she realized that one young man was still back by the entrance, not doing anything. He was just watching everyone, like she was. She was about to introduce herself, which she realized she could neither speak, nor understand him. It had only been a few minutes, and it was already getting to be too frustrating. Azura said that it would be about fifteen more minutes before she figured out how to connect the tiara with the computer, so Treasure decided to go grab some water from the dining car. As soon as she crossed the threshold to the next car down, everything shut off. She could hear the cries of irritation in the others. She immediately hopped back in, which powered the systems back up.
“Apparently, you can’t leave if we want to keep these on,” Azura realized. “I was not aware of this either. What did you need?”
Treasure mimed drinking water from a glass.
Azura said something to the boy who wasn’t doing anything, prompting him to leave. Treasure waved her hands in front of her chest. “It’s okay,” Azura said. “That’s what he’s there for. He’s like a roadie, but for soldiers. He carries extra weapons and ammo, and sends messages to other units. The closest thing to it on your world would probably be the quartermaster, but I think I would translate it to Valet, because Quino garners a lot less respect than a quartermaster. He was born on a fairly poor planet, so he doesn’t have all that much education, and he’s meant to just feel lucky he has a purpose in life. Only a couple people here are actual engineers, but the rest are decades old, and have studied lots of different things. He’s closer to your age.”
Treasure frowned. That didn’t sound very fair.
“He’s getting refreshments for all of us,” Azura clarified.
A little while later, another soldier got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on the screen. They exchanged words in their language, and everyone else started listening. Azura sighed, and prepared to explain it all in English. “Okay, so you’re constantly emitting low levels of bulk energy. You, at all times, straddle the dimensional membrane, and let energy pass through freely. Don’t worry, I doubt it’ll cause you any problems, or cause anyone else any problems. Microscopic tears in the membrane form and heal all the time. Most worlds call it dark energy or vacuum energy, and it’s what causes the expansion of their respective universes. It just so happens that your tear never heals. The Transit was designed to run on multiple power systems, and apparently, the guy who stole it removed almost all of them. He couldn’t remove any of the bulk transistors, though, or he would have just destroyed the whole thing. I don’t know why he chose not to do that, but perhaps he knew we would be coming? It would explain why he left the dining car with the food synthesizers intact.”
Treasure tried to ask what that meant for her, but the gestures weren’t conveying the information clearly. Azura noticed that the tiara was done syncing, so she handed it back. “What does this mean?” she asked. “What does it mean for me?”
“It means that we can take this thing wherever we want to go,” Azura said, “as long as you’re with us. To free us from our reliance on you, we would need to replace the other power systems, like the antimatter drives, fusion reactors, and fuel cells. The good news is that that’s totally doable. I can think of three universes off the top of my head that could accommodate our needs.”
“What are you, uhh...what are you gonna do with this thing?” Treasure questioned. She knew what The Transit was. Her parents spoke of it. It was her mother’s intention when she first left her friends to find The Transit, and use it in the oncoming fight against the Ochivari. She and her partner at the time, Zektene switched gears by joining a crew that planned to stop the Ochivari from existing in the first place. This was where they met her dad, Limerick. When their mission failed, they got sidetracked from having to raise their daughter. Surely they would still want this, and surely Treasure had a high claim to it since this was her universe. The problem was that Azura had a higher claim, since it originated in her universe, and that could create some conflict.
Azura was very good at reading people, and understanding subtext. “I’m going to get these people home, and then I’m going to take you home, so your mother and I can fight over who maintains control over it. Yes, I know what her mission was. Yes, I know that this vessel is crucial in the Darning Wars. No, nobody really knows who’s in charge of The Transit Army. It might be her...but it might be me.” She looked next to her at one of the soldiers. “It might be this guy right here.”
“I’m sure it’s not me,” that guy said.
Both Treasure and Azura were surprised by this. “Whoa. Hadron, you speak English? How is that possible?”
“I speak every language in Vertea,” Hadron answered. “I’ve always been very good at picking new ones up quickly. I’ve been studying English and Maramon since we got here, since I’m not good at much else.”
“How, though?” Azura pressed. “I can’t get anything to stay on for more than a few minutes at a time.”
“I’ve been sleeping in the car next to hers.” Hadron pointed to Treasure. “Before you get huffy, I didn’t know that that was why. I figured that particular car happened to have its own power source. I looked through it, though. It only contains entertainment and cultural research. It has no information about the ship itself, so it wouldn’t have done us any good.”
Now someone else got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on her screen. They talked a little bit. The others weren’t that fascinated.
“Hyperion,” Azura said. “It’s a moon around Saturn, and has an orbital period of about twenty-one days, that checks out. It’s very small, and we are presently seven thousand years before the common era. That makes sense too, because the man who put this here didn’t want to have to worry about someone stumbling upon it. Not even a trotter would think to come to a place like this in a time like this.”
Treasure was concerned. “What about communications? If the Maramon computer can tell where we are, does that mean we’re connected to some kind of network?”
“Nah, that’s all gone,” Azura promised. “That’s the first thing we checked. The comms array has been utterly removed. The thieves likely left it in Ansutah, because they wouldn’t have wanted to be tracked either.”
Quino returned with a cart full of drinks and snacks. Everyone took a break to eat. Everyone...but one. The woman who figured out they were on Hyperion chose to keep working at her station. She seemed very determined to figure something else out. Curious, Treasure looked over her shoulder. The woman didn’t seem to mind it. Some of it appeared in Vertean, but it was also still in Maramon. Treasure spoke Maramon quite fluently, but she didn’t read all that well, and the data on the screens was all very technical. It contained a lot of words that Miss Collins wouldn’t have thought to teach her, so she had to make a few assumptions based on her intuition.
“Treasure, what are you seeing over there?” Azura asked after a few minutes.
“She can explain it better,” Treasure replied, “but I think we have to spend another twenty-one days here.”
Azura thought about it. “There’s a little bit of logic to that. You can only enter or leave at a particular moment, and it’s the moment that the time loop first began. That’s why the grenade brought us here exactly when it did.” She translated the explanation into Vertean, so everyone else would understand. They all seemed fine with it. Three weeks wasn’t that long, and they knew that it didn’t matter how long they spent outside of their universe, they could return to any moment, including the one right after the one they left. Of course, they could die before ever making it back, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. As long as the synthesizers kept producing food, they should be safe here.
So they waited. Treasure’s role on the ship was wildly different than it was during the first half of their vacation. Where once she was isolated and unhelpful, now she was vital to the mission. She was getting a lot of exercise, running back and forth from the front of the ship, to the middle, to the back. It felt like punishment, but at least it was keeping her fit. Did this thing have to be so long, though? Most of the cars were designed to accommodate soldiers and their cargo, but three of them were used to keep the ship running. It was modular, as one might expect. Each car was capable of traveling through space on its own, but only the first and last could pierce a portal through the universal membrane. They needed to both be in operational order, to maximize their chances of escaping this universe, and accumulating the right resources. Treasure tried to expand the breadth of her power, but was only ever able to power systems from one car over. One of the crew was a medic, and was able to help her come up with some recovery exercises. She still couldn’t scream, but she was eventually able to speak at a very low volume, which was enough to allow her to return the tiara to Olkan.
When they weren’t maintaining the engines, the crew was taking a page out of Hadron’s book, and learning English. They didn’t do it for Treasure’s benefit alone. Though they were supposedly going back to where they were, they wanted to know the dominant language in the bulkverse, in case something like this ever happened again. While they weren’t all particularly adept at learning languages, most of them were a couple centuries old, and had a lot of experience with gathering new skills. Lifelong education was kind of the defining characteristic of their galaxy. That didn’t mean everyone had access to it, but the longer someone was alive, the more chances they found to add to their repertoire. By the time they left Hyperion, all of them had a working proficiency, and were speaking English exclusively for practice.
When their forty-two days were up, they gathered in the engine car again, and took off.