Saturday, November 3, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Besieged (Part V)

After secret agent Camden Voss and his subordinate rescued Brooke from the Vanth outpost, they rendezvoused with The Sharice, and got the hell out of trans-Neptunian space. The agents returned to their own time period, and Brooke to her crew and AI daughter. Unfortunately, the incident concerned a lot of important people, who decided to remove both the Sharice, and Brooke, from duty. They were placed together in quarantine on an unnamed asteroid in the inner belt, completely removed from the interplanetary network, and alloted limited communication with their friends. This went on for months until Brooke was called back to the front lines due to intel that suggested the details of her transhumanistic upgrades had escaped the asteroidal moon. Rumors pervaded that someone had synthesized the data, and was planning to sell the plans for unregulated artificial intelligence to the highest bidder. In a word without money, what exactly were they bidding with?
Most of the crew of the Sharice were on indefinite furlough, including Captain Cabral, but a skeleton crew was operating out of a much smaller ship, with which Brooke was intimately familiar. Despite deepened protests against letting her out of quarantine, she was requested to once again helm The Elizabeth Warren. They traveled all over the inner system, hunting for the source of the rumors. Their investigation eventually took them back to Earth—Panama, specifically—where they believed key system leadership had been replaced by sundry criminals. Due to centrifugal forces, space elevators generally worked better when anchored at equatorial locations. However, not everything needed to be absolutely efficient, and solve a global problem. The Panama Anchor was built primarily to see if it could be done, but after infrequent use over the last three decades, it was finally scheduled to be dismantled. Its final trip was broadcast to the public for posterity. A load of nonessential cargo was ultimately being sent to Mars, while a group of Earth leaders were just along for the ride. According to a couple prisoners on Mars, the final voyage of the elevator compartment was nothing more than a front for a secret meeting of bidders for the plans for UAI. Unfortunately, this meant that the team couldn’t trust anyone else, so they would have to handle this themselves. Brooke was pushing the Warren to the limit, and ignoring all safety protocols along the way.
A normal vessel wanting to travel to a particular destination would need to accelerate to a given speed, then flip around, and begin to decelerate at the same rate. Like the Sharice, however, the Warren came equipped with special temporal components. The idea was too continue acceleration until reaching two Earth diameters of Earth, then immediately make a jump to the end. Teleportation usually came with built-in momentum dissipation, but that was because it usually took place in a frictioned environment. To avoid flying off at the speed they were already going upon making it to the elevator, Holly Blue had to program momentum dissipation manually. Then Brooke was going to have to execute the maneuver perfectly. They were quickly coming up on the moment of truth, so there was no time to question their plan, but Dr. Étude Einarsson stepped onto the bridge to do just that.
Étude was The Last Savior of Earth. For thousands of years, certain peoples were chosen to spend their days  teleporting all over the globe, mostly just saving people’s lives. These missions sometimes took minutes, but usually only seconds, and were fully out of the savior’s control. As the world became safer—or rather, mature enough to take care of itself—fewer people were called upon to be saviors. For decades, there was only one at a time, and for decades more, the world experienced interim periods between the latest savior’s retirement, and the time when the next was old enough to work. Saviors usually worked until retirement age, or even their deaths, but Étude was allowed to retire young. Following her last mission, she enrolled in medical school, mirroring the path one of her mothers took. She was presently attached to the Warren as Chief Medical Officer.
No one has ever done this before, Étude signed to Brooke. She was mute from birth, having only said a single word in a moment of desperation for her entire life.
Brooke was really trying to focus on flying the ship. She wasn’t allowed to interface with it—not that she could have if she tried, since the necessary upgrades were removed from her substrate—so the job was much more difficult. “There’s a first time for everything.”
That happens, Étude signed earnestly.
“What?” Brooke asked, confused. She understood sign language perfectly, since most of her knowledge modules were left intact in her cyberbrain. She just didn’t know what Étude meant.
That happens, Étude repeated. There’s a first time for everything that happens. Not everything happens.
“That’s true,” Brooke had to admit. “I’m confident this one will happen, though.”
You’re going to kill us all, Étude warned.
“Okay, my confidence has gone down a bit. Maybe you have some words of encouragement?”
As CMO of this vessel, it is my duty to prevent you from causing needless harm to its crew. I order you to decelerate immediately.
“We’re more than halfway there!” Brooke shouted. If I flip now, we’ll overshoot our target.”
Once we reach safer speeds, you can teleport us back.
Brooke shook her head. “There’s not enough time for that. We won’t reach so-called safe speeds until we’re way past Earth.”
Étude paused for a moment. Then we try Holly Blue’s integrator.
“How’s that any safer? It’s just as untested.”
I’m at the most risk if something goes wrong. Everyone else will be fine regardless.
“Your mother would never forgive me,” Brooke argued. “Besides, you’re a planetary teleporter, just like most people. What we need is someone who can jump in the AU range.”
Étude appeared to be hesitating. I don’t need the range. If this plan won’t work, then I can do it a different way.
“What other way?”
Étude sighed. I can jump us back in time.
“What are you talking about?” Brooke questioned. “You can’t travel through time.”
Yes, Étude replied simply.
“Why can you travel through time?” Brooke asked.
My father, Étude explained. She was referring to Camden Voss, the salmon who could make century-long time jumps. A doctor used Saga’s egg, and Camden’s sperm, implanting them in the womb of Saga’s wife, Andromeda.
“Can you build things too?” Andromeda was a paramount who could magically make entire structures spontaneously exist without spending so much time and effort building them by hand. It was one of the most impressive time powers anyone knew. Someone who could do this would apport parts from all over time and space, and rapidly rearrange them to construct something artificial and complex. If Étude had inherited it from her mother, she would be the fourth of only four people with this power.
Étude pointed her hands towards the corner of the cockpit. She waved them around like a Filliorian king as wood and hardware appeared and organized themselves into a nightstand.
Brooke watched in awe, then slowly turned her head back to face Étude. “Warren,” she said to the computer that controlled the ship, “flip thrusters. Max output. Adjust heading to avoid Earth’s primary sensors.”
Beginning sequence,” the Warren’s computer said.
Étude nodded moderately triumphantly.
“All right, let’s go talk to the butterfly,” Brooke said, setting the ship to autopilot, and standing up from her chair.
“Can’t she just jump herself back in time, to some point when we’re closer to the threat, and lay in wait,” Holly Blue asked after hearing the plan. “Surely our past selves would believe her.” They were on their way to a random point in interstellar space, and couldn’t do anything until they were moving slow enough for Étude to jump them back time.
“It’s best to not alter time if you don’t have to,” Brooke explained to her. “It could make an impact on the elevator ride, and then we would have to start the investigation over. Besides, it would create a timeline where there are two Études running around, and she doesn’t want that.”
“All right,” Holly Blue began, “so we slow down enough for Étude to use my integrator, jump the entire ship back in time just far enough for us to make it to the elevator at standard speeds without alerting the UAI bidders, and without interacting with ourselves.”
“We’re already on radio silence,” Brooke said, nodding.
Holly Blue sighed. “I wish you had brought this to me earlier. I would have told you that the integrator is not ready.”
Étude began to sign at Holly Blue, who didn’t know sign language. “It’ll work,” Brooke interpreted for them. “I have faith in you. We both do,” she added for herself.
“No,” Holly Blue insisted. “Can’t do it. I’m sorry.”
Brooke walked Holly Blue over to the nearest chairs, and sat her down. “I’m going to tell you something maybe I shouldn’t, but since all my information comes from a different timeline, I think it’s safe.”
“What is it?”
“Your real name is Holly Blue. But in the world of salmon and choosers, you’re known as The Weaver...because you’re one of us.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have powers. You’re not inventing these machines that manipulate time. You’re using your own abilities to imbue them with those properties. I believe that’s why Ulinthra hired you in the corrupted timeline. She already knew who you were meant to be; that you’re not human. I know the integrator works, because you’re not capable of making something that doesn’t. Judging by your face, you already suspect this about yourself.”
“I didn’t want to say anything, but I don’t always know why the things I design even work. They’re like sleeping pills; I was just relieved they functioned properly, so I didn’t question it.”
Brooke nodded. “The integrator is fine. Étude will be fine. We’ll all be fine.”
Holly Blue took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m in. Still, let me run a full diagnostic before we try anything.”
“We have all the time in the universe,” Brooke joked.

Holly Blue first came up with the idea of an integrator when she was working on giving the Sharice the ability to teleport very short distances. She wanted to extend that range, and if they found a human with the right powers, they might be able to integrate that person with a machine, and multiply that power enormously. Brooke had to return to the helm while Étude and Holly Blue were activating the machine, so she didn’t see how it looked, but she imagined it to be a glorious sight. Once it was over, and they were back in the past, she plotted a course to the Panama elevator.
I need help,” Holly Blue shouted through the intercom.
Brooke set the ship to autopilot once more, and ran down to the lab. Étude was still in the machine, bracing herself on a metal bar above her head. Space was warped all around her. It looked like she was trying to let go, but couldn’t.
“I can’t get to her,” Holly Blue said. “I can’t shut it down, and I can’t get close enough to pull her hands off.”
Brooke pinched her lips as she was trying to figure out what to do.
“Is this room getting bigger?” Holly Blue stopped to ask.
Brooke looked around. “Oh, not again.” This ship was already larger than it was meant to be. The third person who was able to create things out of thin air did so during the Warren’s first mission. “Étude, you have to stop. The Warren is big enough.” Her arm terminal began to beep. She looked at it to find the vessel to have traveled much farther than it should have by now. Maybe Étude wasn’t really trying to let go.
Nearing Earth,” the computer alerted.
“On screen,” Brooke ordered.
They could see the compartment of the space elevator broken from its tethers. It was falling down through the atmosphere, set to kill everyone on it, and anyone in its path on the ground.
Étude closed her eyes and started to scream. The room grew larger still, faster and faster, until it was the size of a warehouse. The compartment disappeared in a blink, and reappeared in the room, right next to them. It tipped over, and fell to its side. Finally, Étude removed her hands from the integrator bar, and collapsed to the floor as well. What the hell just happened?

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