Saturday, January 16, 2021

Exemption Act: The Ends Justify the Means (Part III)

Carbrey spent about a month studying this universe’s technology, so he would understand how it worked before he even thought about engineering something real. He picked it up pretty quickly seeing as the tech wasn’t too dissimilar to what he was used to, but he said he would rather be safe than sorry. The laws of physics, he claimed, were exactly the same, so that was nice. The facility they were staying in was mostly a gigantic underground hangar, with a few other rooms attached to it. They each had their own place to sleep, but it was nothing fancy. This place was obviously not designed for boarding. Freya wondered what they once kept in here, and why it was abandoned. While they were relatively close to the nearest population center in Kansas City, Khuweka assured them that no regular human would show up. A few temporal manipulators were aware of it, but none had much reason to use it in this particular time period. There appeared to be at least one, though. They were eating lunch together in the middle of the hangar when a ceiling suddenly appeared above their heads, starting from a single point, and then extending outwards. Of course, there already was a ceiling, but it was many stories above them. This one was only a few stories up, and while that was more than enough room to clear their heads, the force of its abrupt arrival knocked them all to the floor.
“What the hell just happened?” Limerick asked as he was sitting up and massaging his head.
“I don’t know,” Khuweka said honestly. She had been thrown down as well, but Maramon were physically superior to humans, so she wasn’t hurt at all.
Andraste, on the other hand, was very hurt. Blood was seeping out of the back of her head, and spreading out on the floor. Her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t moving. When Landis saw this, he started crawling towards her. His wing appeared to be hurt as well, perhaps broken, but he knew that Andraste was priority. He took a deep breath, and exhaled over Andraste’s body. “Injuries heal faster than terminal diseases,” he explained, “but it will still be a few minutes.”
“What if she’s dead already?” Zektene asked. “I don’t mean to be negative, but can you cure death?”
“Death is a process,” Landis answered. “It doesn’t happen in one moment. I can’t go digging up graves, but if she died, it was quite recent, so it should be fine. She will not have even experienced permanent brain damage, which is the one thing I cannot repair.”
“Khuweka,” Carbrey began, “what is that thing?”
“I think it’s a ship,” Limerick assumed right.
“Zek,” Khuweka said, “could you take Mister Genovese to investigate? Jump back here at the first sign of trouble.”
“Okay,” Zek replied. She took Carbrey by the hand, and teleported away.
A minute later, Andraste sat up, and checked the back of her head, not out of pain, but because it was still wet with her blood. “What happened?”
They told her.
“Do you feel okay?” Freya asked.
“I feel great,” she answered. She started opening and closing her hands. “I think my arthritis is gone.”
“Yes,” Landis said. “I’m a holistic healer. I couldn’t cure only one disease or injury if I wanted. It’s all or nothing.”
“We should all get treated,” Limerick suggested excitedly. “I know my liver could use a little TLC. You guys know what that acronym means?”
“Yes,” they replied in unison.
Five minutes later, Zek and Carbrey reappeared before them. “It’s an interplanetary warship called The Sharice Davids.”
They all looked to Freya. “I’ve never heard of it. Sorry.”
“Is there anyone in it?” Khuweka asked.
“Totally empty,” Zek said.
“Based on what little of the system I saw,” Carbrey started to say, “an emergency escape maneuver recently completed its sequence. It was traveling all throughout time and space, spending only seconds at any one point, evidently so no one would have time to board it. It had to stop eventually, though. This last jump depleted it of all its power, except for what little was able to eke out in order for me to get this information, but then it died completely.”
Limerick was staring up at the bottom of the vessel admiringly. “We should keep it.”
“It isn’t ours,” Khuweka argued.
“Why did you choose this hangar?”
“Because no one else was using it.”
“No one else is using this ship either.”
“You don’t know when they’ll be coming back,” she contended. She turned to face Freya. “It is your job on this team to know these things, or find out. Please make some inquiries for us. Meanwhile, Carbrey, power up some of the internal systems, just to gather more information. We’ll only refuel if we all decide we’re allowed to.”
“How do I...?” Freya began to ask, but thought better of it. She was right, this was her job. She had to figure this out herself, or she should just quit. Out of everyone here, she was the most dedicated to the cause. Not even Zek totally wanted to be here. She mostly joined the mission in the first place because she didn’t want Freya to be alone. “I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll go with you,” Zek offered for the upteenth time.
“Good, because I need a ride to Giza.”
They teleported to the benbenet of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was invisible to all who did not know it was still there. A man was standing before them. “Stargazer,” Freya began, “you once told me that you owed me a favor, even though I had done nothing for you.”
“Not you, per se,” Stargazer corrected. “I consider alternates to be equals. Another version of Saga helped, and I honor that.”
“But if you do me a favor, am I not taking it from her?”
“You are not. What can I help you with?”
“We need to find someone familiar with advanced temporal technology, specifically in regards to a spaceship,” Zek said.
“This is my friend, Zektene Cormanu,” Freya explained. Stargazer was polite and accommodating, but wary of strangers. “She’s cool.”
He nodded with his eyes closed, then turned to Zek. “What time period?”
“This one, I think,” Zek answered. “It’s called The Sharice Davids.”
Stargazer was taken aback. “That should not be here in this moment. You must take it away. It is too dangerous. The future depends on no one else ever finding out it survived. I didn’t even know, and must now have my memories erased once you leave to protect it.”
“We’re sorry,” Freya said with a frown.
“No, it’s quite all right. It’s good that you came to me, since I know what to do with this information.”
“It’s only an interplanetary ship,” Zek pointed out. “Where could we possibly hide it?”
He shook his head. “It was designed to protect against external threats to the solar system, but it eventually became outdated, and time travelers later retrofitted it with interstellar capabilities. It was destroyed before reaching its first exoplanet, so if it was put back together, it means some very powerful people came back to reclaim it for themselves. You cannot let that happen, so you cannot trust anyone.”
Freya looked for answers in the layer of sand on the floor. “There might be a way to get rid of it.”
“Tell me nothing,” Stargazer warned before she could continue. “I’m happy to erase my memories, but the less I ever knew, the safer the information will be.”
“Understood,” Zek said. “But just to be clear, there is no one in this timeline who deserves this? Does it not belong to someone else?”
“It does,” Stargazer confirmed, “but it is best that they also believe it was destroyed. The knowledge should not go further than you two.”
They winced.
“You’re not the only two, are you?”
Freya straightened up, and put on her poker face. “I will tell you nothing. No comment.”
He smiled. “Good. Carry on.”
They returned to the hangar, but no one was there. A hatch was open on the bottom of the Sharice, suggesting that everyone made their way into it while they were gone. Zek transported Freya up to the bridge, and then began sweeping the corridors using a series of rapid jumps. A minute later, she returned to ferry Freya to the group. They were in an auxiliary control room, which Carbrey said was where the emergency temporal displacement drive was housed. Based on its remoteness and lack of signage, he guessed that very few people were made aware that this TDD existed. Freya and Zek relayed what they had learned from Stargazer, and it seemed to mesh well with what Carbrey was able to learn from the computers.
“So, not only can we take it, but we actually should?” Limerick was happy to hear this.
“I’m not sure that’s true,” Khuweka disagreed. “Stargazer wants us to get this thing out of the timeline, and the safest way to do that is by sending it to some other universe. That’s not something we can do, and even if we could, we need a ship to get to Worlon first, and this can’t do that if it’s supposed to remain a secret.”
“Aren’t we going to Worlon before anyone else arrives?” Andraste reminded her. “We should be able to keep it secret until the mission is over. Perhaps this is fate. It certainly came at the opportune time. Mr. Genovese was just about to start building us a new one, and now he doesn’t have to.”
“It’s not that simple,” Carbrey said, pulling himself away from the screen. “I was working on a minimalist design. It would incorporate the reframe engine, but it was otherwise only large enough to accommodate the seven of us. This thing is far more than we need, and I don’t think it has a reframe engine.”
“We don’t need it if we can travel through time,” Limerick noted.
Carbrey shook his head. “The TDD is gone. It was only ever meant to be activated once, and as it was sending the ship to this last location, it evidently self-destructed somewhere else in time. The logs called it a...” he squirted at the screen, and rediscovered what he read before, “Lucius last resort. Whatever that means.”
Something was distracting Freya from the conversation. “Landis, are you still hurt? Can’t you heal yourself.”
“I can’t,” Landis answered. “I cannot heal myself. After I got my foundation going, my security detail was composed of hundreds of people.”
“Anyway. I think we’re destined to use it.” Limerick was so sure of himself. “Build the reframe engine thing, put it in here, and let’s get on with it. I know it’s not easy, but you still have two years.”
“That doesn’t help us with the real problem,” Khuweka reminded him. “Once we destroy the Ochivari, someone would have to take the ship to the Triangulum galaxy, or something. I’m not sure anywhere is safe, not when considering time travelers.”
“I thought you said I could travel to other universes,” Limerick said.
“Yeah, you can, and other people can follow you through. You can’t create a shatter portal large enough for a spaceship, and even if you could, you can’t breathe in outer space. You would have to be outside the ship to make it happen. Look, the Sharice came back here for a reason. It believes this is the safest place for it. I say Carbrey builds us what he was going to all along, and we just leave it alone.”
“I can’t accept that,” Limerick fought. This is a warship, and we’re in a war. And who knows, maybe our mission will change enough about the future to stop these evil future people from even existing? I say the ends justify the means.”
“I agree with him,” Freya finally said. They looked at her, a little shocked, but not completely surprised. They knew she was all gung ho about killing the Ochivari, but she was also quite protective of her universe, and if keeping this ship around put it in danger, was that worth the risk? As they were arguing, she was working through that conundrum in her head, and ultimately decided that yes, it was. “We don’t know what we’re going to encounter out there, and this is our best shot at surviving. If we don’t succeed, we can use this in the war, and we’ll always keep it far enough away from whoever is trying to steal it. I don’t know how we’ll actually get the damn thing to another universe, but that’s not our problem at the moment. Let’s stop the Ochivari, then worry about that later. Hell, we might even find a solution on Worlon. We still don’t know how it is they were born with the ability to bulkverse travel. Perhaps it has something to do with their home planet. We can take whatever that is for ourselves.”
“I think it’s too dangerous,” Khuweka said, shaking her head slowly. “But I am nothing if not a fair leader. I will concede to whatever the group decides.”
They continued discussing, letting Andraste moderate the debate. In the end, they decided to use the Sharice Davids towards their own goals. At least if they always had it with them, they could control other people’s cognizance of it. They figured it was better than just leaving it here, and hoping that no one happened to show up.

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