Saturday, January 23, 2021

Exemption Act: I Did What I Had To (Part IV)

The problem with keeping The Sharice Davids—and this would be true of any ship, though there would be less at stake—was that they needed to get the vessel off the ground, and onto a vector without anyone outside the team noticing. There were ships that were capable of doing this, but they had to be quite small, and there was about a fifty-fifty chance of death. It was called darkbursting, and the downside to being invisible was that everything else was invisible to those in the ship as well. Even if the Sharice was capable of darkbursting, Carbrey would have to very carefully plot a path through interplanetary space without hitting anything, but also without being able to course correct. Again, though, it was impossible for an object of this mass anyway because it wasn’t small enough to be mistaken for space debris. Small objects did not appear on any but the finest of sensors, but while The Sharice was no interstellar colony ship, it was hard to miss.
“If I could still turn this thing invisible, I would,” Khuweka lamented.
“You used to be able to do that?” Limerick asked.
“I used to be able to do a lot of things,” Khuweka answered. “I could teleport anywhere in the world, I could diagnose any medical condition, lots of stuff. Then it all got taken away by a base modification in bladapodoverse.”
“What the hell is that?” Limerick pressed.
“On that version of Earth, there are these little creatures called bladapods. They release this sort of gas, which gets into everything, and changes it in unpredictable ways. I once met a woman with literal eyes in the back of her head. She had a son who could only speak in a sarcastic tone. And they lived in a house with constantly changing paint color. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, and other times it’s whatever. For me, it was bittersweet. My powers made me really popular, but that came with the same downsides that any celebrity experiences.”
“So, that’s all it did?” Zektene asked. “They removed your other powers?”
“Well, they made it so that I bleed out of my fingers every few months until I’m pretty much dry. Obviously it replenishes, but the more it happens, the weaker my abilities get. I can technically still do it.” She looked around until spotting a bottle of water on the table. She concentrated on it for a few moments until it disappeared. Then she picked up, and drank from it, showing that it was still there, just hidden.
“If you’re still capable of it, then I might be able to help,” Zek offered. “My abilities were created in a lab, and passed down the generations until evolving into something stable and usable. The scientists weren’t just working on teleportation, though. I remember one experiment they designed to enhance other people’s abilities. I never met this person in my reality, but they may exist in the reality that supplanted it. I think it’s worth a shot if Limerick here really is capable of traveling the bulkverse.”
“I am!” Limerick protested. “I think. I am, right? That’s what you said.”
“You are, yes,” Khuweka confirmed. “You ever try to punch someone, but you miss, and hit a wall, except there is no wall, it was just air?”
“I know I’m a drunk.”
“No, that’s what you’re doing,” Khuweka tried to explain. “When you punch at seemingly nothing, at the right spot, you can start weakening a point we sometimes like to call a thinny. If you continue to strike at it, this thinny will break, and you can cross over. Others can follow if the portal is large enough to stay open before spacetime heals itself.”
“Wait,” Limerick began, “do I have the ability to punch these so-called thinnies because I’m a bastard brawler, or am I bastard brawler because I can punch thinnies?”
“That I do not know,” Khuweka answered sincerely. “I have never heard of anyone who was born with this ability. Meliora learned it after spending centuries in a persistent meditative state. Zoey has to use a knife. Joseph has his coat. Every other form of bulkverse travel ultimately came from a single people’s ultimate invention, and they spent literal aeons working on it. It is an incredibly rare gift, even more so when you can grasp how unfathomably large the bulkverse really is. You are unique among undecillions upon undecillions of people, and I have no clue where you get it.”
Limerick acted like he had never heard anyone say anything nice about him before. He didn’t cry, or even tear up,but he did have to straighten himself out, and act like he had been there before. “Okay. So I just need to punch hard enough for everyone to get through? Doesn’t sound so hard.”
“Not everyone needs to get through,” Khuweka clarified. “It’s my problem, I’ll go alone.”
“That’s stupid,” Zek argued. “I’m the one familiar with that universe, so I will go escort you.”
“We’ll all go,” Andraste corrected. “If we’re going to be a team, then let’s be a team. I hear tell her universe is parked right next to mine. I should quite like to see that.”
“You won’t recognize it,” Khuweka warned Zek.
“Didn’t think I would.”
“It may be dangerous,” Khwueka continued.
Freya placed her hand on Khuweka’s shoulder, though it was highly uncomfortable, because of how tall she was. “We’re going. Limerick, do whatcha gotta do.”
Limerick took a breath. “Nobody help me. I wanna see if I can figure it out on my own.” He tried to punch the air, and honestly, it looked a little pathetic. “Forget you saw that. I’ve never swung this arm sober before, it don’t feel right.” He prepared himself, and tried again. His had better form this time, but still nothing happened.
“You have to find a thinny,” Khuweka reminded him. “It’s the difference between hitting a concrete wall, or solid wood. They’re both difficult, but the first one is nearly impossible. It might not be pleasant if you’re not inebriated. It might hurt.”
“No, I wanna do this clean. You were right, I haven’t felt this good since I was eight years old. Maybe you can teach me how to find a thinny, though?”

Khuweka walked him through the process of locating the weak spots in the spacetime continuum. They were all over the place, but ephemeral. And it wasn’t something a normal person could exploit for their own purposes. In fact, they were largely undetectable. Machines like The Crossover were so large that they could punch through that proverbial concrete wall at any spot, so no technology existed that could find them. That was just one more way that he was one of a kind. He did have his limitations, though. Not all universes were open to him. They had to be part of a network of bridges created by others, and these bridges could only be accessed at certain points in spacetime. Other bulkverse travelers had more freedom, but his gift was still impressive.
Limerick found his point of entry, and got to punching. It took him about a half hour to get all the way through, but Khuweka assured him that he would get better over time. He did have to keep going through all of it, however, because like an antlion’s pit-trap, the thinny would always start repairing itself as soon as he let go. Once he was finished, Landis and Carbrey helped him through the portal he had just created, following Khuweka on the frontline. Andraste went through next, followed by Freya and Zektene.
Limerick was instructed how to find a good egress location, using a psychic connection he evidently enjoyed with the bulkverse itself. They didn’t want to come out in the middle of a highway, or something, and Khuweka in particular needed to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, as this was Limerick’s first sober shatter portal, he didn’t get it quite right, and instead of the middle of the woods, they ended up in a park. By the time Freya got all the way through, the children and their parents had already stopped the fun they were having, and were staring at Khuweka’s unfamiliar appearance. They didn’t seem frightened, and no one tried to rush their kids away, but they were exuding optimistic caution.
A woman in a construction outfit was the only one brave enough to approach the team. “Where did you come from?” She was asking in order to obtain the information, not because she had never seen anything like it before.
“Let’s just say...another world,” Khuweka answered, using her own caution.
The construction worker nodded. “You probably ought to check in with Bellevue.”
“Is that a city, or...” Andraste began.
“It’s a city, and an agency,” the woman replied. “I believe they have a field office downtown, but Bellevue Proper is thousands of naykos away.”
No one seemed to have heard of that form of measurement before, but it sounded like miles or kilometers. She surely wouldn’t be talking about feet. “If you show us where it is on a map, we can get there on our own,” Zek told her.
“A teleporter, okay.” She pulled up her phone, and found Bellevue on the map.
Zek began to ferry the team there two at a time, saving Freya for last, who was able to see how indifferent the crowd was to seeing someone teleport. She couldn’t help but notice how different it looked. Normally, Zek would just disappear, but here she turned a shade of purple, and visible strands of energy flowed around her body. Before Freya too left, the children had already returned to their fun and games, having seen this sort of thing before.
They walked into the lobby of what, honestly, looked more like a hotel than some kind of government agency headquarters. The receptionist smiled at them, took down their info, and relayed it to the appropriate representative. Then she asked them to sit in the waiting room. No one else there was the least bit concerned about Khuweka’s form. This seemed like a nice world.
Five minutes later, a man came down from the hallway, and started shaking everyone’s hand. “Hello, my name is Luka Drake, Head of Base Security. Come with me to Conference Room C, if you will?” He led them down another hallway, and into the room. “Where are you all from?”
“Can we be perfectly candid?” Khuweka asked.
“I wish you would,” Luka confirmed.
“We are from a parallel universe. Actually, multiple universes. Now, you may have heard of alternate realities.”
He waved off the rest of her explanation. “We are aware of the bulkverse. We try to stick to the Composite Universe and Universe Prime, in order to avoid any temporal confusion. And we don’t crossover often.”
“Unfortunately, we do not have this luxury,” Khuweka continued. “You see, we are at war. At war with a race known as the Ochivari.”
He nodded. “I have never heard of them. Perhaps we simply use different words. Our historical records speak of a multiversal threat called the Maramon.”
“That is my race,” Khuweka revealed. “They are truly a threat as well, however a team is already working on that problem. I have assigned myself the Ochivari threat. We are attempting to quash them before they can even evolve. We were hoping to encounter an anomaly who can enhance my associate’s teleporting abilities. Our world is unaware of the threat, and we would like to launch from the surface without their knowledge, to protect them from the truth.”
“You betrayed your own race to help humans?”
“I did what I had to,” Khuweka said. “Still do.”
“Understood. So you’re looking for an anomaly who can enhance your abilities,” Luka echoed. “I have not seen Ambrose Richardson in quite some time, and we are not presently cognizant of his whereabouts. There are two options after that, but you will need Savitri’s permission for the first, and the agency’s permission for the second. The second is a permanent solution, albeit a bit less stable.”
“You know Savitri?” Khuweka asked, surprised.
“Not personally, but it was through studying her that our scientists were able to come up with a technological adaptation. We’re working on a drug, but it is not yet ready. We’ve had some bad history with ability-enhancement, and besides, that would only work on an anomaly.”
“I’m an anomaly,” Zek told him.
He was shocked. “You are?”
“I’m from an alternate timeline. I went back in time, and erased myself from the future. That’s how I ultimately ended up on this team, and how you ended up existing. Bellevue’s not a thing where I’m from.”
“Hmm...” Luka contemplated this new information. “As an anomaly, you are entitled to join the drug trial, if you would like. I can get you in quick for the price of an account of this alternate reality you come from.”
Zek looked to Khuweka for any hint that she should say no. Khuweka gave none. “Well, okay. I don’t see why not.”
Luka smiled. “I could probably throw in a booster platform if you also tell us what you know about these Ochivari. It enhances your power as long as you’re using it, and it’s designed to work with anyone, not just anomalies. Success not guaranteed, however; not with either of them. Only Savitri herself can guarantee results.”
“We’ll take it,” Limerick exclaimed. “Madam Kadrioza, tell the man what you know.”
“Hold on,” Andraste stopped them. “Let’s make sure we all know the details, and what’s at stake. I want to know more about this drug, and how far along you are in your research and development process. We are time travelers, let us not rush this.”

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