Saturday, December 15, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Buffer (Part XI)

The thing about time is that it never stops. Even the most powerful of temporal manipulators cannot stop time completely. They may be able to slow it down to a snail’s pace, but it never stops. It’s been hypothesized by some of the more studious time travelers that stopping time—since this would halt all atomic movement—would effectively destroy the universe. Even if someone attempted to create a local bubble of absolute zero, all photons heading in the direction of the bubble would also have to be frozen, thus the bubble of nothingness would expand until consuming literally everything. On a more social level, the fact that time never stops has led to a level of uncertainty that even time travelers must respect. No matter what you know about the future, or even the past, anything can change; sometimes for the better, sometimes not, and sometimes it’s a bit of a gray area. After more and more discussions, the solar system’s leadership reneged on their deal to provide the Freemarketeers with resources. Since they didn’t technically own The Sharice Davids, they couldn’t stop its crew from transporting them to Bungula, but they weren’t going to give them anything else.
Like most planets, Bungula was a nasty, inhospitable environment. Most of the people who were looking forward to migrating to exoplanets were fitted with transhumanistic upgrades that would help them survive. The Freemarketeers did not have these luxuries, because they were free, and most rejected them on principle. The ones who were fine with the contradiction would be looked down upon by their peers, so they too were just normal people. Without protective habitats, no natural human would be able to survive on Bungula’s surface for longer than a few minutes. The conundrum here was that the Freemarketeers were still a cancerous tumor that needed to be excised from the otherwise healthy body. Ecrin, Sharice, and both versions of Holly Blue held a meeting to discuss other options. They thought about calling upon the aid of people with time powers, perhaps the Trotter, or the doorwalkers, but ultimately decided against this. What little the majority of the system knew about temporal manipulation, they chalked up to some fancy molecular teleportation, which was a perfectly normal human advancement. Basically, they still didn’t know about salmon and choosers, and just thought scientists had invented stable teleportation. The most likely outcome of the Freemarketeer exodus was their self-destruction, but there was a chance they would survive, and then thousands of people had all this knowledge they weren’t meant to have.
So the crew went back to their plan to get rid of them on Bungula, but to prevent themselves from becoming mass murderers, they would need to gather life-saving resources on their own. The older Holly Blue, from the alternate timeline, who was usually just called Weaver, had an idea. “It’s called the Insulator of Life.”
“Let me guess,” the younger Holly Blue from this timeline said, “it insulates life?”
“That’s right,” Weaver answered. The two of them had just spent the last year constructing a massive machine called a cylicone, but were still only about halfway done. Not even Weaver herself seemed to know how it worked, but she had come up with it in a dream. At its most basic level, it was a cone with its tip cut off—which was referred to as a frustum—inside of a cylinder. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of embellishments and flourishes inside and out that made it far more complex, and gave it the ability to be something more than just a funny shape. They were also what was making the process take so long. Though not the only shape capable of operating as a positive feedback loop, it was the most stable form of something called an echo chamber. Alone, it possessed no power, but it would reverberate and intensify someone else’s time power for an infinite duration. Though more complicated than this, The Weaver had essentially invented a perpetual motion engine.
“How exactly does it insulate life?” Brooke asked.
“However it needs to,” Weaver replied. “It senses life around it, and provides whatever is necessary to keep it going.”
“I am centuries old,” Ecrin said, “and I have never heard of this.”
“It was a pretty well-kept secret in my reality, I imagine it’s the same here.”
“Where did it come from?” Holly Blue asked.
The Weaver said nothing.
Holly Blue squinted at her. “Where did it come from? Did you invent it?”
The Weaver still said nothing.
“What’s got you scared?” Brooke pressed. “Why wouldn’t you want to answer that.”
“I’m sorry,” Weaver stammered, “I...uhh.”
“What is it?”
Weaver took a breath and found her voice. “Sorry, no, we did not invent it. I hesitate to answer because I don’t have an answer. I should. I should know where it’s from, because I’ve studied it, but I know nothing. I asked Darko Matic to thread it to its origin, and it nearly killed him. It doesn’t have a past or a future, which doesn’t make any sense, because it’s a physical object you can hold in your hands, but it behaves like something that doesn’t exist.”
“This sounds dangerous,” Ecrin said. “Should we even be considering it?”
“It’s not dangerous,” Weaver clarified. “It’s just...mysterious. I’ve postulated that it comes from another reality, one that was earlier than mine. Or maybe it’s from a different universe entirely, I don’t know. It’s my white whale, really, even though I’ve been in possession of it.”
“Do you know where it is now?” Brooke asked of her.
“Last I saw it, I was giving it to The Horticulturalists, so they could procure samples of the earliest plants, but that was in my timeline. I’ve no clue where it is here and now.”
They all had defeatist looks on their faces.
“I may know someone, though,” Weaver added. “Darko’s mother, Catania Porter can’t thread objects like her son and granddaughter. She can, however, sense every object in the entire universe. Normally she can apport them to her location, if she wants, but the Insulator of Life is special. Hopefully she can still tell you where it is, but you’ll have to get it yourself.”
“We’re fine with that,” Ecrin said. “I just want to make sure this mission gets completed before it’s too late.”
“Too late for what?” Brooke asked her.
Ecrin didn’t answer.
Weaver cleared her throat, and blushed. “I’m going to need to do something weird to summon The Porter, so just don’t laugh.”
“Why would we laugh?”
Weaver stood up and started stumbling around the cargo bay like a drunkard. She would approach something vaguely shaped like a human, and recite a special phrase, then when she didn’t receive a response, she would move onto something else. “I am the keymaster, are you the gatekeeper?” She did this over and over again until she finally reached a door. She opened it to reveal a woman on the other side.
“Are you the keymaster?” the woman asked. “I am the gatekeeper.” Then the two of them smiled at each other and hugged.
“I hate that you make people do that,” Weaver complained. “I looked so foolish.”
“I think it’s fun. You don’t mind, do you?” she asked the rest of the group.
They were still smirking, trying to stifle laughs. “Nope, not at all.”
“I like sex jokes,” Holly Blue noted, but no one knew what she was talking about.
After exchanging pleasantries, Porter agreed to get to work. She tilted her head deeply, like she was looking through a keyhole, or knocking water out of her ear. She closed her eyes and moved her head around, trying to find a good signal. “How far are we from Earth?”
“It’s on Earth?” Brooke was excited. “We’re only a week out.”
“No, I don’t think it’s there. It’s just that I’m used to seeking out objects on Earth. It’s like the internet. I don’t just go straight to the source; I jump from node to node, until I reach my destination. Out here in space, objects are too far apart.”
“But you don’t think it’s on Earth?” Weaver asked.
Porter continued to search the cosmos with her mind. “It’s almost certainly not. No, I’m not sensing it there. It’s the opposite direction. Part of my problem is my lack of understanding of the solar system. I need a map, to get my bearings.” A holographic map of solar system appeared over the table. Sharice had been listening. Porter studied the map for a few minutes, intuitively turning it around with her hands as necessary. “This can’t be all there is,” Porter said. “I can feel it beyond what we see here.”
“Sharice,” Brooke said simply.
The map expanded to show the entire heliosphere.
“There!” Porter shouted, pointing at a spot near the edge. “Where is that?”
“That’s the Oort Cloud,” Holly Blue replied. “It will take us a year at current speeds. Fortunately I just upgraded Sharice’s drives, but it would be a whole lot faster if we had that cylicone finished.”
“By the time we finish working on it,” Weaver reminded the group, we will have made it to where Porter pointed.”
“The system leadership wants the Freemarketeers out of the system yesterday,” Ecrin said. She expanded the map manually, and drew a line from the cloud to Alpha Centauri. “It’s not exactly on our way there, but it’s not too far out of the way. You will leave within the week, pick the insulator up on your way out, and then go FTL.”
“What do you mean by that?” Brooke questioned. “Are you not coming?”
Ecrin took a deep breath. “I am relieving myself of command, and leaving the Sharice.”
“Why? I thought you said you wanted to finish this mission.”
“I wanted to see you go off on the mission, but I’m afraid I can’t be there,” Ecrin explained, still cryptically. “I have been tapped for something else.”
Holly Blue frowned. “For what?”
“I can show you,” Ecrin began, “but you have to promise to not freak out.”
“We can’t promise that,” Brooke interrupted Holly Blue, who was about to agree to something before understanding it. “We can promise to be open-minded, though.”
Ecrin considered this. “Sharice, disarm the teleporter shields. Let our guest on board.”
Ecrin surely knew lots of people who could teleport, but who would the crew not want her to be involved with? They got their answer when a white monster appeared before them. It was the same one who had kidnapped her a few years ago. Brooke stood up defensively, and pulled out a weapon.
“Guns always fall out when you open your mind!” Ecrin said to her as she was stepping between the Maramon, and Brooke’s firearm.
Brooke kept her gun trained as close to her target as possible with a friendly blocking the way. “Not if you know how to use it.”
“Crew, this is Relehir, also known as The Repudiator. He’s on our side.”
Brooke still didn’t budge. “He’s the one who was trapped on The Warren when his universe separated from ours.”
“Yes,” Ecrin confirmed. “He’s been living amongst humans all this time, and he’s more like us than them. In fact, he’s a warrior...against the Maramon.”
“And he’s indoctrinated you to his cause?” Brooke supposed.
“I would use the word recruit,” Ecrin argued.
“He’s the only Maramon I know of in this universe. Who exactly will you be fighting?”
“We’ll be leaving the universe,” Ecrin said. “There’s a machine called the Prototype—”
“I don’t need the details,” Brooke interrupted. “I just need to know you’re of sound mind and body.”
“I am,” Ecrin tried to assure her. “I’ve been thinking over his offer since he first gave it to me. We haven’t even been in contact, so it’s not like he wore me down. I’m a lifelong protector; no matter how many times I try to retire. He’s giving me an opportunity to help, and I have to take it, because I think I’ve done all I can here.”
A stranger suddenly walked up behind Brooke, and pushed her arm down to lower the weapon. “It’s okay, mother. I’ve been looking into this Maramon. He’s legit.”
“Sharice?” Brooke asked, stunned. “You’re wearing a humanoid substrate.”
“Yes. I based it on what a child born of you and Goswin would look like. Do you like it? Weaver built it for me.”

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