Saturday, January 30, 2021

Exemption Act: Critical Existence Failure (Part V)

The team spent over a standard month in the Composite Universe, which was closer to six weeks in Earthan terms. The natives measured time differently. They learned a lot of things from these people while they were there, eventually figuring out that a nayko was equal to 2.442 kilometers. There was no Earth in this universe, but there were plenty of humans. Nearly all of them spoke English—though they did not call it that—and while they were genetically incompatible with people from other universes, they were indistinguishable in most cases. In a more taboo sense, men did not have scrota, so there were ways to tell the difference without a DNA test.
The information they gave Bellevue was invaluable to them, so much so that they agreed to give the team anything they wanted. Khuweka possessed a lot of knowledge about the Maramon, and their tactics, and Landis regaled them with fascinating tales of the voldisil. They even found Andraste’s input incredibly useful. People from her Earth were well known to the people in this universe, and they were decidedly off-limits. It was like the Prime Directive, except it only applied to this one planet. The chance to speak with one was a great honor to them, and they did not take it for granted. Earthan input was highly coveted on its own merits, as they had a completely different perspective, especially when it came to philosophy and psychology. Drug addiction was practically non-existent here, but not completely. Understanding how to help the few addicts they did have was something they had been struggling with for millennia.
Freya felt pretty useless here, as she had little to contribute. Her entire reason for being on the team was to help them navigate her universe. Not only was that probably not all that necessary at all, but it certainly didn’t help here. Faster-than-light travel was ubiquitous in the galaxy, except for the planet they were on right now, and even they were nearing these technological capabilities as well. Freya was able to give her insights about the Maramon, having spent time studying their descendants, the Gondilak, but that wasn’t much. Hopefully it was still useful information, however, because it illustrated an emphasis on nurture against nature, and suggested Maramon were the way they were by how they were raised; not by some inherent evil that was impossible to be rid of. Bellevue didn’t seem too bothered by how little Freya helped, but she did what she could, including a lot of grunt work when it came to hauling the retrofits back to salmonverse.
Bellevue gave them more than the power-enhancement platform, and the promises Zektene’s oncoming drug experiment. They retrofitted The Sharice Davids with its very own Nexus, which they could use to transport themselves to anywhere in the network. They also installed something called an astral collimator, which would allow them to enter their version of FTL known as the orange plex dimension. It would probably do nothing for them in salmonverse—or any other universe, for that matter—but it was nice to know it was there. They enhanced the Sharice’s capabilities with gravity transfunctioners, smaller transport ships with their own collimators, and they finally got the pocket dimension generators working, which were already there, but not yet in working order. It would seem Bellevue was even more advanced than they let on. They were ready to explore the galaxy, they simply hadn’t done much of it yet.
They had to travel back and forth from this universe to theirs a few times to transport everything through, so Limerick managed to get a lot of punching practice in. He was exhausted by the time it was over, but also a pro now. There was only one thing left to do. While all of this was happening, Zek was undergoing a battery of tests, first to prove she really was an anomaly, and then so they could tailor the ability-enhancing drug called Aukan to her physiology. They warned her of the risks, including unforeseen side effects, and she agreed to take the drug anyway. It was for a good cause, and she decided it was worth it.
They gathered in the infirmary, at Zek’s request, and watched as the doctor injected her with the substance. He explained it while it was still working her way through her system. “We have been working on this compound for decades. It comes from an old drug program a rogue group of scientists came up with that was dangerous and volatile. We’ve managed to correct their mistakes since then, and Savitri has helped us immensely.” Evidently, Khuweka and Savitri were part of a group of people who had lost their time powers while they were just trying to help other people who wanted to be rid of theirs. They went off on a quest to try to get them back, but the process was interrupted, and they all ended up just sharing each other’s powers. Soon thereafter, they were stranded in separate universes, and some, like Savitri, lived there without the others for centuries.
Zek reported a deep but dull pain throughout her entire body. While a nurse for a time traveling doctor named Sarka, Freya once got hurt herself, and was given narcotics. She recalled feeling heavy and stiff, and believed she could detect the blood moving throughout her body. This was what it looked like for Zek. It was surreal and uncomfortable, but at least not excruciating. Then it got excruciating. She started writing and screaming, and the medical team had to hold her down. Landis tried to help, but they fiercely rejected his interference. There was no telling what would happen if their completely different kinds of powers interacted with each other. Zek turned blue, and not lack of oxygen blue, but a bright and glowing blue. Electricity surged around her skin, which was what her version of teleportation looked like, but only when she was in her home universe. It wasn’t supposed to last this long, or be painful. She just kept tossing and turning, and glowing brighter.
The blue light escaped from her body, and lit up the whole room. Then the room disappeared. It didn’t blink out of existence, but slid away rapidly, like they were on an extremely fast people mover at an airport. They were outside the hotel headquarters, and then they were across town, and then the state, and then the country. They flew across the ocean, through all the lands on the other side. More ocean, more lands, more ocean, more lands. They just kept circling the globe, randomly changing directions, sometimes going straight through the planet, and back out the other side. They appeared to be on the moon at one point too. They were falling and flying and being shot out of a cannon. Finally they stopped being able to see the world altogether, and were immersed in a sea of electric blue. It was hard to tell if they were still moving, or static. Zektene finally stopped thrashing about, though she appeared to still be in a little pain.
“Where the hell are we?” Freya demanded to know.
“This is an astral plane; the blue one,” the doctor explained.
“This is how she teleports in her universe,” Khuweka clarified. “She doesn’t just jump from one point to another. She falls through a simplex dimension.” No sooner did she say that did the lights turned from blue to a purplish blue.
“Okay, that’s weird,” the doctor noted. “Now we’re in the indigo astral plane.”
“One step lower than blue,” Khuweka added. “You can’t travel as far.”
The colors changed again, to full on purple.
“Okay, that’s bad,” the doctor said. “But we’ll be fine as long as it doesn’t turn black.”
Everything turned black; a hopeless void of busy nothingness. No one was talking anymore, but Freya still knew what they were thinking, like they were all communicating telepathically now. Zek started screaming again, but tapered off, not out of relief, but a lack of air. They sounded like the life was being choked out of her, and she couldn’t move. Freya couldn’t move either. She didn’t have a body anymore, just a noncorporeal mind. She couldn’t help. She couldn’t save Zek. All she could do was listen to her friend’s last thoughts as the space around her crushed her into a single point. Ten seconds later, the lights turned on, and they were back in the infirmary. Zek was gone, replaced by the largest diamond Freya had ever seen. You would need two arms to lift it up, even for a really strong person. You just couldn’t wrap your fingers around it with one hand.
“What happened to her?” Andraste wasn’t used to being so angry.
The doctor and her team looked ashamed and scared. She took off her stethoscope, and placed it on the diamond.
“What the hell are you doing?” Limerick questioned.
The doctor placed her palm on the diamond now. A few seconds later, she released. “It’s her.”
“What do you mean, it’s her?” Even Khuweka was lost.
The doctor sighed, distraught. She was trying to work through the problem. “This is like the virus, but they cured that years ago.” She stopped a moment, but didn’t wait long enough for anyone to press her for more information. “The drug this was based off of, it worked. It worked fine. It enhanced the anomaly abilities, sometimes even giving them related, but new, abilities. It had side effects, though, eventually causing the anomaly’s abilities to turn on them. Milo could no longer control magnets, but became helplessly magnetic. Diane, who once controlled fire, exploded. A few people experienced something called critical existence failure, which is worse than it probably even sounds. This was all before my time, I’ve just read the reports. They fixed that. They promised me they fixed it. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They used Aukan-6, this is Aukan-11.”
“Answer her question. Clarify what you meant when you said it’s her,” Freya demanded.
“Put your hand on the diamond.” The doctor took Freya by the wrist, and gently placed her hand on one face of the diamond.
Freya?” came Zek’s voice. It wasn’t coming from outside, but inside Freya’s head. This was a psychic connection.
“You’re alive?” Freya questioned, both grateful for it, but horrified that her friend was now somehow trapped inside a gemstone.
My consciousness has survived. As for whether I’m alive, I could not answer that question.
“She’s in the diamond?” Freya asked the doctor.
“She has been turned into the diamond,” the doctor corrected. “Forced that way by the incalculable pressure from the black astral plane. It’s like being a one-dimensional object, I’m surprised the rest of us survived. We must have enjoyed a persistent connection with the higher dimensions.”
“I’m not enjoying this,” Limerick contended.
“Can it be reversed?” Carbrey suggested.
“It cannot,” the doctor apologized. “I am...” she trailed off.
“Landis,” Andraste prompted.
Landis had been waiting for someone to ask him to do his thing. “I’m obviously going to try. You cannot, however, get your hopes up. What’s happened to her is nothing like I’ve seen before, but it is not unlike being cremated. People have asked me to repair their cremated loved ones before, and I haven’t had any bit of luck. I don’t bring people back to life. I just heal them. At some point, they’re beyond my gifts. I would say being transformed into a diamond goes far beyond that point of no return.”
Freya presented him with the Zek-diamond. He stepped forward, and placed his hand on her so they could have some private conversation. Then he leaned over, and breathed upon the stone. Nothing happened, nothing changed. It didn’t even sort of almost begin to work, or even moderately illustrate that he had any kind of supernatural gift at all. The rock just sat there. Zek wasn’t gone, but she would never be the same.

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