Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dardius: Hogarth and Hilde (Part VI)

The only way Hogarth Pudeyonavic was going to repair the planet-hopping machine called the Nexus replica, and make it back to Dardius, was to study a working version of the machine. They were rare, though. The first one created in this universe was thought to have been built by a special choosing one named Baudin Murdoch; also known as The Constructor. This turned out to be untrue, however. No one actually knew where they came from. They were always just discovered on a planet, and there seemed to only be six total.
The question now was where they would go to study one of these Nexus replicas. The one on Dardius was out of the question, of course, because if they could get there, all their problems would have been solved anyway. That only left four possibilities, one of which was rumored to be extremely dangerous, and they didn’t know where it was in normal space anyway, so that wasn’t that helpful. Earth, Gatewood, or Durus. Hogarth had to pick one out of these three to travel to. She didn’t know anything about the Earth Nexus replica. She didn’t know where it was, or who was in control of it, or what. Gatewood was technically the closest of all, but only by a small margin, and if Hogarth was successful with her plan, that probably didn’t matter much. She and Hilde had been to Durus a couple times, and each time was a unique experience. All signs suggested that things were a lot better there than before, and even with the bureaucracy, whoever was now in charge was the most likely to be willing to help them. It wasn’t a certainty, but they were better off taking  a chance on them than anywhere else.
“How far is it?” Hilde asked as she was standing just outside the chamber.
“From here? Roughly eighteen-point-four light years.” Though Durus was once a rogue planet of unknown origins, it somewhat recently found itself attached to a star system called 70 Ophiuchi, which was about sixteen and a half light years from Earth, and enjoyed no terrestrial planets of its own.
“This thing can take us there?”
“I don’t see why not,” Hogarth replied.
“It’s a teleporter,” Hilde began to argue. “It can definitely take passengers to the other side of the planet, but that doesn’t mean it can go farther than. My car was never able to travel to the stars.”
“True,” Hogarth agreed, “but your car didn’t have this.” She stuck her hand outside the chamber, and shook it around. “Or this.” She pulled her hand back in, and returned to shake something else at her.
“I don’t know what those are.”
“The first one is a power cell from the Nexus replica. Most of them were damaged beyond repair, but this one is more or less intact. It should give us the boost we need to make one jump.”
“It should?”
“The second one is a navigational module. I don’t technically need it, since I can find out exactly where Seventy Ophiuchi is, but I might as well use it since the calculations have already been done for me.”
“If you put find a way to put those things in this teleportation machine that Pribadium built, then why do you even need to repair the Nexus at all?”
Hogarth climbed out of the access panel, and stepped over to hunt for a particular tool in her box. “First of all, it’s not a Nexus; it’s a Nexus replica.”
“Why do people keep calling it that? Where are the original Nexuses?”
“Nexa,” Hogarth corrected again. “The real Nexa were built in another universe. These just look like them, but they used this universe’s physical laws.”
Another universe?” Hilde questioned. “You mean a fictional universe.”
“Way I hear it, it ain’t so fictional. Anyway, to answer your question, I still need to fix the Nexus replica. This one is too small, and it’s unique. I’ll be able to jump to Durus, but I’ll have no way to jump back. Pribadium never created a retrieval function, and she obviously didn’t build a companion on the other side.”
“Okay, but...” Hilde began, “don’t we have to jump back anyway? We have to come back here to repair this one.”
“Well, that’s not really what I meant. That’s one reason I’m choosing to go to Durus. I know there will be someone there who can help us come back, but it won’t be a permanent solution. The Nexus replica is.”
“Are you sure we should do this? I’m not convinced the Nexus replica needs to be repaired. I mean, who is using them? Who, for instance, both needs to instantaneously travel from Gatewood to Glisnia, and is allowed to?”
“That’s not my call,” Hogarth said. “Someone thought it should be a possibility, and I’m honoring that by fixing what broke.”
Someone,” Hilde reiterated. “We don’t know who it was, or why they did it. Maybe it’s part of an alien invasion, or uh...a time invasion. We just don’t know. You’re presuming benevolence with no evidence.”
“I choose to believe,” Hogarth said as she was crawling back into the access panel.
“I think I know what this is.”
“What what is?”
“You don’t like to feel useless. This has always been your problem. You gotta keep moving, like a shark. I never could get you to relax, and think things through.”
“Well, when you can literally explode at any time, and be unwillingly transported anywhere in time and space, you don’t really have the luxury of being cautious. If I see an opportunity, I have to take it, because there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to change my mind tomorrow.”
“Well, maybe you could slow down now. You said your explosive time power-slash-affliction thing is gone.”
“I said I feel like it’s gone. I don’t know for sure. That’s why I never let you out of my sight. I can’t risk leaving you behind, not even now.” She worked in silence for a moment. “There.”
“It’s done?” Hilde asked. “That seems fast.”
It did seem fast, but it wasn’t difficult at all for Hogarth to adapt the few parts she salvaged from the Nexus replica wreckage to the teleporter Pribadium that invented a few years ago from scratch. It was pleasantly intuitive. What Pribadium built, and how she built it, made so much sense—and so elegantly exploited known properties of physics—that it was actually shocking no one had invented time travel before her. Hogarth was finished in a day. It should have taken weeks. “Yes. Are you okay doing this? Maybe you’re right, and we could survive being separated for a little bit. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.”
“No. We’re a package deal. I’m in.”
“All right. Let’s get packed up. Proverbial wheels up proverbially in five.”
By the time Hilde was finished making sure they had enough provisions to survive something going wrong, Hogarth was already looking through the system at the interface terminal. “What is it?”
“There’s something funny here,” Hogarth answered.
Hilde didn’t bother asking for an explanation. She wouldn’t understand it, even at its dumbed-down level, so she just waited for her wife to figure out what she needed to on her own.
“I’m looking at the navigation, and there’s something here that wasn’t there before,” Hogarth went on. “Or maybe we just couldn’t see it while it was still hooked up to the replica.”
“You mean, like, an extra location?”
Hogarth tilted her head a little as she was looking through the data. “More like an extra set of locations. There’s a hidden partition here. I mean, it’s not a partition, since it’s not a disk, but you know what I mean.”
“No, I have no idea what you’re talking about, Piglet.”
“Oh my god.” Hogarth stopped and turned to Hilde. She held one fist up in front of her. “Imagine this is a hard drive. There’s data on it, and we can read that data, because that’s what it’s designed to let us do. She placed her other fist next to the first one. “This is like a hidden section of data that we couldn’t read before, because they’re not even connected to each other.” She shook her fists to illustrate the space between them. “When this thing was hooked up to the Nexus replica, you could only see the first section, because there was a physical separation between them. Basically, Hilde, I screwed up when I adapted it to Pribadium’s machine. I...I hooked it up wrong, and it gave us access to all this new information.”
“What does that mean?”
She pulled up a cosmic map, which showed dozens of destinations that weren’t there before. “It means there are a lot more Nexus replicas out there. This is still just a fraction of them. We may even be able to reach the original network...ya know, the one that’s in a different universe?”
“Are we going to do that?”
Hogarth revealed a sinister smile, and pointed at one of the destinations. “No, we’re going to go here. This was hidden behind a virtual protective layer of its own. I think it’s the origin of the replicas. That’s where we’re going to find what we need. Durus doesn’t have to be involved at all.”
“If you think it’s safe enough...I’m down.”
“Let’s go.”
Hogarth queried the destination, confirmed the power requirements, and set the timer. Then she and Hilde stepped into the transportation chamber, and waited for the countdown to be complete. Ten seconds later, they were standing in a Nexus pit, be it a replica, or a real one; Hogarth could not yet be sure.
Hilde looked around, but didn’t move. “Are we okay?”
“You’re okay,” came a voice from a dark corner. A figure stepped forward. “How did you get here?”
“We found the hidden partition,” Hogarth explained.
The woman stared at her a moment. “Oh,” she realized. She didn’t seem too terribly impressed. “Okay.”
“Where are we?” Hilde asked her.
“This is my workshop. You didn’t ring the doorbell.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m kidding, it’s fine. I’ve not had visitors in...a couple million years, probably.”
“How are you that old?” a wide-eyed Hilde questioned.
“Old?” the woman asked. She laughed for a good solid minute. “Honey, someone who’s only a couple million years old would be, like, a week old in my terms. You two have been alive for, what, ten seconds? Ya got about ten left.”
“My name is Hogarth Pudeyonavic.”
“That’s a mouthful.”
“This is my wife, Hilde Unger.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Engineer Azure Vose.”
“Engineer? You engineered the Nexus replicas,” Hogarth guessed.”
“Yes, well, we automated the process in my home universe, so it just seemed like more fun to move on to somewhere else.”
“Two of ours were destroyed, at least. One was repaired, but the other still needs it.”
Azure shook her head at medium speed. “They’ve all been destroyed.”
Hogarth was surprised. “What?”
“Come on,” Azure said. “You’re time travelers, right? Everything that will inevitably be already is right now, and already was a long time ago, and won’t be for awhile? They all get destroyed at some point...multiple times, actually. There’s no such thing as the present, so I repair them now, or later; in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter.”
“It matters to us. We need it repaired now, in case someone needs to use it soon. And by soon, I mean from the time it was destroyed, onwards, as perceived through linear time.”
“Well, where do you wanna go?” Azure asked. “I will send you wherever you want, to do whatever you want, and then I will go back to whichever replica you’re talking about, and do whatever I want with it, whenever I feel like it.”
Hogarth wanted to argue more, but Hilde could tell it wasn’t going to do any good. She was ripped from her life before she had the chance to go to college, so she didn’t understand a lot of this stuff, but one thing she was always good at was math. She wasn’t able to make a full calculation, but she could come to a decent enough estimate. This Azure Vose person was claiming to be billions of years old. In fact, she seemed to be more than twice Vitalie’s age, which was already insanely old. This wasn’t the kind of person you messed with. If she made a decision, you just kinda had to accept it. “We were hoping to get to a planet called Dardius. It’s in a galaxy called Andromeda Twenty-One, but the natives call it Miridir.”
“Oh yeah,” Azure said. “I know what you’re talking about; I can do that.”
Hogarth still wouldn’t let it go, so Hilde had to interrupt her yet again. “November 25, 2263, by the Earthan calendar. That would be great.”
Azure started walking towards the control room. “All right. Give me a minute. You’re lucky. The original Nexa can’t travel through time. Well...except occasionally, when the story calls for a time adventure.”
“What?” Hilde asked.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Wait,” Hogarth said. She didn’t let Hilde stop her this time. “I have so many questions...about so many things.”
Azure smiled sincerely. “The answer is yes; this is my natural hair color.” She winked, and slipped through the doorway.
A minute later, they were back on Tribulation Island. Pribadium, Cassidy, and two Vitalies were already there. A woman walked in and introduced herself as Meliora Rutherford Delaney-Reaver. Then she escorted them halfway across the world.

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