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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Bond (Part VIII)

Ecrin stared at the viewport, into empty space. She could see the stars and planets, but no ships. She was completely alone with the Maramon who was keeping her hostage. “Did we teleport somewhere, or did they?”
“Neither,” the Maramon said. “We slipped into a different temporal dimension.”
“At what rate?”
“Infinitely slower,” the Maramon explained. “For us, time is moving slower and slower, but will never stop completely. By the way, I’ve yet to introduce myself. My name is Relehirkojun Rokoglubederi, but you can call me Relehir for short, or just...Repudiator.”
“What are you repudiating?” Ecrin asked him.
“My people; more specifically, their actions. I have not just been sitting in a cell since The Warren first arrived on Earth those years ago. I’ve not been able to go out and do whatever I want, but I’ve been able to gather knowledge. In that time, I learned some things about what becomes of the Maramon. They lose all sense of peace, and start killing each other for space and resources. In a desperate attempt to end the conflict, a group of brilliant scientists come up with a machine that allows them to travel to other universes. Theirs was a noble effort, but the technology was corrupted. The military co opted it from themselves, and began waging wars in these other universes. Fortunately, the machine was stolen from them as well, but not before a great explosion sent a number of them all over the multiverse. The Maramon scourge is no longer capable of spreading to any other universes, but that does the ones they’re already in no good. They’ve continued to reproduce, and grow their armies, and the humans are usually fairly helpless to stop them. I want to give them an advantage. I want to fight.”
“Wait, you want to fight with the humans, against your own kind?”
“I feel it is my duty,” Relehir said with sincerity. “I’m working on forming a team, and I want you to lead them.”
“Why would I lead them? Why not you?”
He shook his head. “I am a scholar, not a leader. The people I have in mind for this team will not respect something like me. They need a human, and you are perfect.”
“Who have you been considering for this...crusade?”
“There are some people throughout history who have experienced banishment. They’ve been betrayed, or neglected, or dismissed. This universe will not miss them, for they are all ruthless and violent malcontents.”
“That’s what you want, malcontents?”
“This is a war, Captain Cabral. We won’t get anywhere with diplomacy. Even before the Maramon turned to hostilities, we were unreasonable. Our creator subconsciously tried to make the perfect race, so he did not endow us with much ability to be flexible, or patient. These are traits that I have had to develop through my positive exposure to humans. If we want to fight the Maramon, we have to do so physically, and we have to be sure it’s done by killing them. We have to kill them all. It’s the only way.”
“What about the ones in Ansutah, your home world? Will you kill them too?”
He shook his head again, “we can leave them alone. The Crossover will absolutely never go back to that universe, so long as a human operates it. All original researchers were either killed by a faction who did not believe in their cause, or committed suicide to prevent their work from being replicated. There will be no escape, so I’m only concerned with the monsters who are already out.”
“That brings up a good point,” Ecrin said. “If the Crossover is the only machine capable of traveling the multiverse, how are we planning to do it?”
Relehir smiled. “It’s not the only one; it’s just the biggest one. Before they used up resources building it, they needed to make sure the technology worked, so they built a prototype. Seats about eight, has everything you need, but it’s not particularly glamorous. They call it The Prototype.”
Ecrin Cabral was very old, which meant she was very mature. Over the centuries, she honed her interpersonal skills. She had decided long ago that the best way to gather genuine information was to start from a foundation of apprehensive trust. She could not treat Relehir as an enemy combatant, or even an intellectual opponent, yet she also couldn’t treat him as a friend. It was her responsibility to question everything he claimed, but take every response at face value, and use it to fuel each next question. She had to assume that he wasn’t lying, and she had to express to him her willingness to believe him. When an individual feels they aren’t being believed—whether they’re being honest or not—they instinctively tighten up, and become defensive. Many interrogators use this to create a sense of discomfort, hoping to force them into revealing, not the truth, but the presence of lies. This technique is fundamentally unreliable, because an uncomfortable person may demonstrate a lack of confidence, even if they really are telling the truth. Therefore, the best way to gauge a person’s honesty is to let them make a mistake on their own. This technique takes more time, but will ultimately leave a lot less room for doubt. Ecrin didn’t know whether she was going to take Relehir up on his offer to lead a small army against the Maramon, but if she immediately ruled it out, the conversation would go nowhere, and she would never get all the facts. “I need a list.”
“A list? A list of what?”
“Of the team. I need to know who you think should be on it, and why. I need as much information on these people as we can get. If I’m even going to consider your proposal, I need to know who I’ll be working with, and what they’ve done in the past, and the future.”
He was pleasantly surprised by how easy this was going. He had kidnapped her, but he hadn’t done it without his reasons. He couldn’t be sure she would be willing to so much as listen to someone who looked like him if he didn’t take precautions to make sure she couldn’t simply walk away. That was another thing Ecrin’s age gave her. She had lived several lifetimes already, which made it that much easier to take more risks, and accept dangerous conditions. She had survived everything she had experienced up until now, even her own death in another timeline, so why not this? “I have files on each of them.” He woke up the nearest terminal. “I’ll pull them up right now.”
“First,” Ecrin said, “I need you to take us back to realtime. How much have I missed?”
“I don’t have a relativity clock. Months, I’m sure.”
“Take us back, and we can keep talking.”
He closed his eyes and nodded graciously, then he lifted his little device once more, and sent them back to the normal temporal dimension. He pulled something up on the terminal. “I was right. It’s been about ten months. I’m sorry, I felt like I had no choice.”
“I understand why you stopped time,” she said as he was loading the requested documents. “What I don’t know, is why you seemingly pretended to be a pirate.”
“Oh, I wasn’t pretending,” he returned. “I stole those ships for you.”
“Every one of those was retrofitted with illegal temporal manipulation technology. None of you has fully grasped how bad it’s gotten, but the solar system is becoming aware of time travelers. This isn’t Durus. People who can manipulate time want to live in secret, and they were being threatened, so I took care of it for you. Then I sent out a flare, and waited for The Sharice Davids to come find me, because I strongly believe we contained that threat.”
“Who made you like this?” Ecrin asked. “Why are you so...?”
“Good?” Relehir suggested, handing her a tablet with the team information. “I had good teachers, it’s true, but they were nothing compared to my role models.”
“Like who?” She started skimming the list of potentials. “These people here?”
“Oh, hell no. Those would have been terrible role models. I’m talking about Mohandas Gandhi, Anne Frank, John Brown, Brooke Prieto, you.”
He opened his mouth, as if to laugh, but didn’t. “That probably wouldn’t surprise you so much if you hypothetically had your memories erased, and then read your biography.”
She was blushing, so she decided to change the subject, “I need to call my ship. They’ve probably been looking for me, and wouldn’t think to return to where they last saw me.”
“Actually, that’s not true.” He leaned back to show her his screen. A small space buoy was pictured there. “They left this here in case you returned. Someone probably suggested we had just become invisible, or something. The Sharice is already on its way back. Unfortunately, it will take about a month. Again, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well maybe you did your best. Hopefully the apocalypse didn’t come while we were gone. How are we going to handle this? I’m leaning towards not arresting you, but they will want to.”
He nodded. “The Prototype is currently being used by someone else.” He used airquotes for the word currently, ‘cause time travel. “My sources do not predict its return to this universe until 2211, and have no reason to believe something will happen to it if we don’t get to it right away. You and I are both ageless, and the people I want on our team exist in other points in time anyway, so there’s literally no rush. I am willing to accept the consequences for my actions, and can wait as long as it takes.”
“No. I’m not saying I’m going to agree to this, but I have to believe you never intended to cause this solar system harm, so I will let you go. There has to be away to make yourself scarce before my ship returns.”
“I can use executive escape module. It doesn’t go super fast, but if I leave now, I should be able to stay dark.”
“That’s dumb. I’ll take the module, you take the ship. I’ll just have to make sure I have enough rations.”
“Are you sure about this, Captain? This isn’t our only option.”
“I can handle it,” Ecrin assured him. “It’ll give me time to read over your files. Again, I agree to nothing, but this is a start.”
“Very well. I’ll start checking inventory.”

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