Saturday, May 25, 2019

Proxima Doma: Roundabout (Part X)

“We’re..from...home,” Kavita answered him, like there was no better way of explaining it. But we are ultimately all from Earth.”
“I was born on Durus,” Vitalie corrected.
“Honduras?” Gavix asked. “Never heard of it. Never heard of Earth either.”
“We need to find a way to get our bearings,” Tertius suggested.
“How old is this universe?” Étude asked Gavix.
“Oh, yeah,” Tertius realized. “Assuming each of our universes was banged out with the same start values, knowing the age of the universe would tell us our temporal distance from our present.”
“Right,” Gavix said, “but I don’t know how you perceive time.”
Tertius thought about this for a minute, but couldn’t come up with an answer. Vitalie knew what to do. “One-elephant, two-elephant, three-elephant, four-elephant, five-elephant. That was five seconds. There are sixty seconds to a minute, sixty minutes to an hour, twenty-four hours to a day, and three hundred sixty days in a year.”
“Five,” Étude had to correct, recognizing that Vitalie was not from Earth, and had her own way of measuring time. “Three hundred and sixty-five days in a year.”
Gavix tilted his head for a moment. Any normal person would have no clue what to do with the data he was just given, but this guy would clearly be able to internalize, and use it properly. “The universe, at this moment, is roughly nine-point-three billion years old.”
Tertius just shook his head.
“How old is the universe for us?” Vitalie asked him.
“Thirteen-point-seven-something, or other. This is billions of years ago.”
“In a different brane,” Gavix reminded him.
“A what?”
“Brane,” he repeated. “Uh...universe.”
“That’s worse. It makes it even harder to swallow,” Kavita pointed out.
“No, it doesn’t,” Gavix assured her. “The truth is that it doesn’t matter what year it is in one universe, as compared to another. This may resemble where you came from in many ways, but it operates in a completely independent timestream. You didn’t travel four and a half billion years into the past. You just crossed over to our brane, incidentally at this point in our history. When you cross back, it can be at any point in your own history. Our timelines have nothing to do with each other. When I take you back, you’ll be fine.”
“You can take us back?” Étude asked, astonished.
“Yes, of course.”
“What do you mean, of course? Do you have access to The Crossover?”
Gavix breathed in deep, and sighed, as he looked to his crew with an expression of only mild distaste. “My ship was the one built to navigate the bulkverse. The engineers who created the Crossover didn’t so much as invent it as they progressed enough to send a message across the bulk. We received this message, and followed it out of curiosity, which was when they stole our technology. That’s also how come we knew you were here. We detected your arrival, and jumped right away.”
“What if we were going to steal your technology, just like the Ansutahans did?” Étude asked.
Gavix shrugged. “They didn’t just steal the plans for bulk travel technology. They stole the engine itself. What we’ve been left with wouldn’t be able to accommodate an army the likes of which we found ourselves up against before. Honestly, I’m not sure all four of you can use it either. It’s only so big.”
“Is it some kind of time pod?” Vitalie guessed.
“Uhh...” It’s like Gavix didn’t want to say. “No.” He looked at one of his Byrqoz people, and signed for him to go open the safe. After the guy left, he prepared to defend himself. “Okay, it’s not going to look like much, but I promise that it works. It wasn’t designed to do what it can do. It’s this unbelievable story that involves rubber bands, a particle accelerator, and my lunch.” He used airquotes for the last word. “I was wearing it at the time, and it became imbued with the power to cross over.”
A crewmember standing nearby caught Étude’s attention, and signed, he stole it when he was drunk, snuck into engineering, and ended up being exposed to exotic matter.
The Byrqoz alien person returned with a colorful garment draped over his arms. You might even call it technicolor. He presented it to his leader like it was the world’s most precious item.
Gavix accepted it. “We call this the dreamcoat,” he said. “It’s virtually impossible to navigate. It can only take you to a brane you’ve already been to before. Obviously this shouldn’t be a problem for you, since you’ve not been to any oth—”
“I have,” Vitalie interrupted, knowing what he was going to say. “I’ve been to five. Total,” she added, “including home. I don’t know if this one we’re in right now was one of them, though.”
Gavix was surprised. “Oh, well...then I can’t promise the coat will take you to the right one.”
“She can be a passenger,” Tertius said. “One of us will drive.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Gavix said. “There’s no driver. It attempts to send you back to where you’ve been. The more branes you’ve been to, the bigger the crapshoot. You can’t control it.”
“We can handle making three or four pitstops,” Étude said. “That’s not a big deal.”
“It would only not be a big deal if you were immortal, or at least ageless. It requires time to charge after each use.”
“How much time?” Kavita asked.
“In your terms, I would estimate a thousand years, and that’s a very rough estimate. Like I’ve explained, I’m quite immortal, so I never kept track when I was using it.”
“You guys think we can handle a thousand years?” Tertius asked the gang.
“Wait, you are immortal?”
Étude ignored the question, because the answer would grow obvious as the conversation continued from here. “It could be up to four thousand years.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Gavix contended, worried someone would shoot the messenger. There’s nothing about this coat that prevents it from doubling back. You could end up back here for another thousand years, and then in one of the others again. I repeat...crapshoot. I probably wouldn’t have suggested it had I known about your friend here. I spent a lot of time lost throughout the bulkverse.”
Kavita sighed, and put her hands on her hips. “Lost for how long?”
“I wanna say...a million? Maybe two? I never really made much attempt at returning here, though, because it mattered little to me where I was. I guess you could try to navigate by thinking about your universe real hard, but it’s not, like, a psychic coat, or something.”
She took the universe-hopping garment from him, and spread the corners out with her arms. It was a fairly large coat, but four people might have been pushing it. “Someone has to stay here anyway, and I’m not really up to the whole crapshoot thing. If I’m gonna live forever, I may as well do it here. Maybe this is exactly where my life has been leading me.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Vitalie said with a frown. “There’s no reason for us to worry about it. All your problems will be solved if I just don’t go with you.”
“We can’t leave you here,” Étude argued. “Nor you,” she said to Kavita.
“No, I wanna stay,” Kavita argued back. “I’m not doing this just to be a martyr. When I volunteered to be a cognizant for my people, I fully intended to live amongst them, and just pretend I didn’t know about technology. But then I became friends with the three of you, and we started spending a lot of time together. I would be lying if I claimed it wasn’t nice using the food synthesizer, or watching a movie in air conditioning. I guess I’m not as much of a primitivist as I thought I was. So there’s nothing for me back there. None of the Oblivios could ever truly know who I am, or what I’ve been through.”
“We would be there,” Tertius said. “We know who you are.”
She smiled sadly. “And I will never forget the gifts you’ve given me. I consider this universe the culmination of all that. I really do wanna stay.”
A moment of reverent silence.
“And you,” Étude said, like a protective mother. “She’s already used the new life, new path explanation. I won’t let you off that easy.”
Now Vitalie was the one smiling sadly. “You remember what I said when I gave you the water?”
Tertius didn’t respond.
“I wasn’t the one what procured it for you, but you insisted you pay me back. I’m collecting. Take Étude. Take the coat. And go.”
“I’m the one who got the water.” Étude was raising her voice with each word.
“That wasn’t really you,” Vitalie said.
“Well, it certainly wasn’t you,” she fought.
“I was delirious,” Tertius said to Vitalie. “I didn’t know what I was promising you. If you would like to collect at a later date, I would be happy to...give you a back massage, or beat up your ex. I’m not stranding you alone in a frightening new universe.”
Vitalie plopped her arm around Kavita’s shoulders. “I’m not alone, it’s not scary, and these seem like good people.”
Étude shook her head. “It could be a thousand years, it could be a million. We have the time, so we’re gonna take it. You’re coming with, and that’s that.”
Vitalie could see that nothing she said was going to change their minds. Their only hope was to remove all alternatives. “Mister Henderson. You have no stake in this. I’m asking you first, before they can. Teleport those two back to the surface, with the coat, and then, like, spool up the FTL drive, or whatever.”
Étude and Tertius both shook their heads. “Don’t.”
Gavix looked amongst them, weighing his options. Then he nodded tightly to one of the crew.
Étude tried to stop the Byrqoz, but Gavix held her back.
“Don’t do this,” Tertius pleaded. “You won’t ever see your coat again.”
Gavix shrugged. “It was never mine. I stole it. I just thought it looked cool.”
Vitalie wanted to say her goodbyes, but the strategy wasn’t allowing enough time. Gavix did what she asked of him, and sent her two friends back down to this other version of Proxima Doma. Then he jumped his ship so far away that there was no hope for Étude to teleport them back.
She might have tried to travel back into the past, and stop them from leaving at all, but that could have resulted in disaster. In the end, they were forced to respect Vitalie’s wishes, and just leave. They didn’t really know how to operate the coat, but they didn’t have to. It started glowing as soon as Tertius put it on. She slipped underneath and held onto his chest, which was a little awkward, but it worked. They removed it when it stopped glowing, and found themselves on the penultimate level of the tower in the center of the Oblivio dome. Above them, where the top level used to be, they could see the hologram of an open sky the Oblivios were shown to make them think they weren’t really inside of a dome. On the ground, a crowd had gathered around the tower base, just like last time, when Tertius was too sick to erase their memories. Only an hour of time had passed since they left.
While he was working on correcting this yet again, a ceiling spontaneously appeared over their heads. A hatch popped open from above. Vitalie stuck her head through it. “Oh, hi. I was told I know you. Is this true?”

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