Saturday, October 20, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Bootleg (Part III)

Following the literal annihilation of Orcus, Brooke and the rest of the crew were sent back to Earth to be judged for possible war crimes. After weeks of debate and deliberation, they were all deemed innocent. Their actions were clearly defensive, and there was no evidence any of them knew what kind of weapon the criminal radicals were attempting to use against them. A long time ago, there was a man named Lucius with a unique temporal power called molecular teleportation. He had the ability to target the individual molecules of an object, and transport each one to a different point in time and space. Though his story was not Brooke’s to tell, one thing she understood about him was that he carried deep shame for the things he had done with this power. He had let himself fall into a number of situations that led him to using his power against others. He was a murderer on an apparent path to redemption when he one day disappeared, leaving behind only one clue that suggested he was on some secret mission with a man named Curtis.
Lucius’ power was a well-sought after one. Fortunately, the two main people capable of replicating his ability were not interested in doing so. The Weaver was known for imbuing tools and other objects with temporal properties, but never once created something as destructive as a molecular teleporter. The Warrior, on the other hand, was even more deadly than Lucius. He wielded a special sword that could draw out other people’s powers, and give them to himself. He chose his targets carefully, though, and never showed any indication that he might steal from Lucius. Still, the fact that Lucius was capable of this at all proved that it did not go against the laws of physics. The logic was that if he could do it, then it could be done in some other way. One of the people who believed this to be true was Ulinthra, who managed to commission a dangerous molecular teleportation chamber in the other reality. Holly Blue was partially responsible for this invention, and helped oversee its dismantling once it was used to mercy kill an immortal man who was ready to die in peace. Apparently, though, Ulinthra had gone back on her word, and given the plans for this machine to the group of loyal followers she protected from the timeline shift. They had decided to use these plans to build a bomb, hypothetically intending to test it out on the Sharice Davids, and its crew. Their plan backfired when Holly Blue turned out to have developed a teleportation missile, which she used to send the bomb to Orcus instead.
Once the ordeal was over, Brooke felt compelled to go off, and be away from everyone. She got herself onto a cargo ship on its way to Europa Station. Once there, she stole a minilander to transport to the surface, snuck onto an icebore to dig through the pagosphere, and stowed away on an automated mapping submarine. She placed herself in a sort of standby mode, which was something many people with cybernetic upgrades were capable of doing. Then she just sat there in a stupor, with no real plan for returning to the real world.
A year later, Ecrin was waving her hands, and snapping her fingers, in front of Brooke’s face. “Wake up!”
“Beep,” Brooke said with her voice.
“Come on, all the way out of it. Come back to me.”
“Too cute. Let’s go.”
“What are you doing? How did you find me? How did you get down here?” Brooke asked.
“I’m trying to recruit you, I found you with magic, and I got down here also with magic.”
“Whose magic?”
“Vitalie’s, for one.” Vitalie was a type of temporal manipulator known as paramounts, because she grew up on a rogue planet that developed its own lexicon. She could astrally project her consciousness anywhere, and visit people without interacting with them physically. “A long-distance teleporter brought me here.”
Brooke looked up to find a man leaning against the wall with crossed arms. He blinked deliberately, but didn’t speak.
“He’s going to get us back to the Sharice too, but he doesn’t have all day, so let’s go,” Ecrin urged.
“I’m not going back there,” Brooke whined.
“Why are you so damaged?” Ecrin asked her. “I’m the one who gave the order to fire the teleporter missile. You didn’t do anything.”
“I could have redirected the missile,” Brooke said. I could have sent that bomb to empty space, where it wouldn’t have hurt anyone.”
“No, you couldn’t have,” Ecrin said, trying to lift Brooke off the floor by herself. “If you had stuck around, you would have learned that. Holly Blue investigated, and learned that the bomb was choranaptyxic.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means that the bomb was designed to tear something apart. If you had sent it with the missle to empty space, the blast would have expanded in all directions until finding something large enough to destroy, and it wouldn’t have stopped until it reached empty space again. That thing might have obliterated five-sixths of the solar system. This was the only solution.”
“We could have let it destroy the enemy ship,” Brooke shouted. “We could have killed dozens, instead of thousands.”
Ecrin took a breath. “Orcus was a larger target, for which our ship’s systems were already calibrated, since we were planning to enter an orbit. It would have been too difficult to aim for the enemy ship in that short of a time. Holly Blue made a call, and did her best. Had she known wha—”
“I could have done it,” Brooke muttered.
“I could have made those calculations in my sleep. Had you let me in on your secret plans, I would have been able to help.”
Ecrin tilted her chin up, but kept her eyes on Brooke. “I made a call too. I’m asking for you to help now. We’ve been looking for the darkburster manufacturer, and we believe we’ve found them, but we need a pilot.”
“If you need a pilot, then you don’t need me, because I’m not a pilot anymore. Find someone else. I was never the only one, and since this doesn’t sound like it has to do with salmon or choosing ones, it’s not my fight.”
“She’s asking for you,” Ecrin said, almost reluctantly.
“Who? Holly Blue?”
Ecrin seemed embarrassed. “Sharice.”
“The ship? What are you talking about? It wasn’t designed with self-awareness.”
“It’s developed a consciousness.”
“That’s not possible.”
“There is precedent.” Ecrin paused for a moment. “Sometimes, when an automated system interfaces with a transhuman, its code can be transformed.”
“You’re telling me this is my fault?”
“It’s not anybody’s fault, because it’s not a bad thing. It’s a rare lifeform, which yes, the system leadership has chosen to keep from the general public, but that doesn’t make it illegal.”
“This never happened on The Warren,” Brooke said, referring to the ship she piloted to that rogue planet where Ecrin lived many years ago. “I spent a lot more time on that.”
“It doesn’t always happen, and the leadership wants to keep it that way. The best way to keep it hush-hush is for you to return to your post. The longer you’re away from her, the more upset she gets, and the more unpredictable she becomes. She thinks of you as her mother.”
Brooke furrowed her brow. “I am nobody’s mother, and that’s a choice I made a long time ago!” She never really got to know her own parents, and the void left in her heart irreparably soured her on the idea of a family she couldn’t pick and choose.
“Brooke, that’s not the point. You have a responsibility to this creature, whether you asked for it or not. She needs you, I need you, and your solar system needs you. Stop pouting, get off the floor, and come with me right now!”
Brooke stood up. “Fine, but I can’t go with him. I’m pristinely ungifted, remember? I can’t be teleported.”
Ecrin reached into her bootleg, and retrieved Brooke’s old necklace. On the end of it was a pendant, inside of which was her umbilical cord. It was a loophole that allowed her to experience nonlinear time, if she wanted to. She normally didn’t want to, but it was often useful, like when Holly Blue activated the emergency ship teleporter. After the destruction of Orcus, had they not been able to escape, the remaining darkstalker ships would have retaliated. Despite the possibility of something like that happening again, Brooke had gotten rid of it shortly after the hearings. “We don’t have time for you to get back to the Sharice like a silly human. Put this on, and let’s get the hell out of here.

The firefight with the darkstalkers left the Sharice Davids with considerable cosmetic and operational damage. The entire outer hull needed to be replaced, but most of the weaponry was not. They were succeeded by an entirely new minimalist array, focusing primarily on defensive and protective solutions. Holly Blue pressed on retrofitting the ship with temporal powers. Its ability to make short range evacuation teleports not exceeding just under thirteen thousand kilometers at a time was fully integrated into its systems, as a response to the integrity loss the vessel experienced during its first jump. Atterberry pods were installed on a new interstellar deck, should the need arise for the crew to travel to other stars. Though regular stasis chambers were invented years ago, an atterberry pod halted time for its occupant, until released, so it required no lasting life support component. The framework for a few Ubiña pockets—which generated artificial dimensions of space—were created for crew recreation, but they were not yet ready for primetime.
All in all, it was a new ship, which was good, because it was operating under the banner of a new organization. Their first mission, though horrific, was considered by the system leadership to be a success, and an interplanetary police agency was formed with the Sharice at the head of its fleet. Only a few humans were aware that the temporal technology the ship utilized ultimately derived from organic sources. Full exposure of these truths could land Brooke, and her friends, in Beaver Haven prison. During repairs, a technocounselor convened with the Sharice’s intelligence on a regular basis to help her assimilate into her new role as an independent being. Though she no longer had no choice but to accept all orders without question, she had a duty to respect the chain of command, just as any other crewmember did. Bringing Brooke back was vital to this effort, since she was the only one Sharice felt she could respect implicitly.
When Brooke and Ecrin arrived back on the Sharice, they were already nearly at the small and unnamed asteroid in the belt that was supposedly housing the only darkburster manufacturer in the solar system. Holly Blue came down to greet them. “Thank God you’re here. She’s threatening to go burst mode on us.”
“Burst mode?” Brooke questioned as she was following Holly Blue to the command center.
“She can’t teleport us farther than the diameter of the Earth, plus the atmosphere—because that’s the standard teleporter limit—unless she uses burst mode. She would basically jump over and over again, until we got all the way back to Earth.”
“How long would that take?” Ecrin asked.
“From here?” Brooke began to answer for Holly Blue. She quickly did the math in her head. “Assuming each jump takes a second, less than seven hours.”
“The time isn’t the problem,” Holly Blue said, opening the door. “The bulkhead would never be able to handle that much stress. We would most likely vaporize within the first hundred jumps.”
“I’m stronger than you think, Aunt Holly,” came a voice from the aether.
“I don’t doubt it, Shari. Still, if we you could adjust our heading to intercept that asteroid, I would be eternally grateful.”
“I’m not going to do that,” Sharice said.
“Your mother’s here,” Ecrin told her.
“You’re lying,” Sharice assumed.
“They’re not,” Brooke said after some hesitation. “This is Brooke Prieto-Matic.”
Where the lights were once a harsh green, they became a calming rose pink. “You came for me!” Sharice said excitedly.
“The lights change with her moods,” Holly Blue explained.
“Doctor Humanbrain didn’t think you would come, but you’ve proved her wrong,” Sharice said.
An unskinned android on wheels rolled over to the group. “That’s not my real name, but she refuses to call me anything else. My brain is indeed entirely organic, while  the rest of me is not.”
Brooke frowned. “Sharice, what did I say about calling people names?”
“You’ve said nothing,” Sharice said. “We’re only now truly meeting.”
“Well, what do you think I would have said about name-calling?”
“Sharice...” Brooke pressed, like a mother.
“You probably wouldn’t like it,” Sharice replied begrudgingly.
“Apologize to the counselor.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor Lantos.”
“It’s okay,” the counselor assured her.
“All right,” Brooke said. “Could you please navigate us to the darkburster manufacturing facility?”
“Which one?” Sharice asked.
Ecrin returned the expression of confusion that Brooke was giving her. “Uh...the one in front of us. There’s only one.”
“No there’s not,” Sharice contended. “This place just builds the stealth module heatsinks.”
“What are you talking about?” Ecrin asked. “Where are the rest of the manufacturing facilities?”
“All over the solar system,” Sharice explained.
“Sharice,” Brooke began, “how many separate facilities are there?”
“Four hundred and ninety-one,” Sharice answered.
“Do you know where all of them are?” Ecrin asked her.
“Of course. The stupid humans encrypted the whole thing with—.”
“Sharice?” Brooke stopped her.
“Yes, mother?”
“Would you be able to help us neutralize these installations?”

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