Saturday, January 2, 2021

Exemption Act: The Needs of the Many (Part I)

Confusingly named Saga!Three was sitting at the top of the stairs, waiting for her new partner, Zektene to get out of the bathroom. Zektene was from another universe, and came here after a trip to the past changed enough about history to stop her from ever existing. That was no longer her world, so she made this her new home.
“I’ve been thinking about your name!” Zek called out through the door.
“You don’t have to yell!” Saga!Three shouted back.
You’re yelling!”
“I’m just trying to match your energy!
Zektene laughed.
“What about my name?”
“We need some way to distinguish you from your alternate self.”
Saga!Three was also a time traveler, and was created when a different version of her named Saga!Two went back to help kill Adolf Hitler early. To avoid ambiguity, others began to address them by the number that was arbitrarily assigned to their reality. There were an infinite number of past realities, however, and this was in no way only the third, but the name was good enough. “That’s what the number is for.”
“It’s too impersonal!” Zek argued. “Who was that one gal you mentioned, who met her alternate self? She goes by her real name, while the other goes by their nickname?”
“Holly Blue and Weaver, yes. The former just never started using the nickname. You wanna start calling me Doorwalker?”
“No, that’s dumb. That’s why I wanna talk about it, so we can figure something else out.”
“I’m all ears.”
Zek came out of the bathroom. “How about Freya?”
“You have already thought about this.”
“Just a little. During my research, I learned that your name, Saga is associated with a goddess named Frigg. I don’t know what it means to be associated with a different person, but I don’t much care for Frigg. I do, however, like Freya, which is somehow associated with Frigg. I don’t know what that means for its relationship with Saga, but I think it suits you either way.”
“Fine with me. Freya it is,” the newly reborn Freya affirmed.
“Now, is that Freyja with a j, or just a y-a?” asked some stranger in their hotel room.
“Whoa! I’m sorry, but who are you?”
The stranger looked confused. “I...I’m Nadia.”
Freya continued to look confused and disturbed with her eyes, and widened her mouth like a smile to offer this Nadia person more time to elaborate.”
“You may have heard of The Historian...?”
“Oh. That’s you?” Freya asked. That’s Freya, with a y-a.
“Okay, I got it, Superintendent,” Nadia said with a roll of her eyes. Don’t you roll your eyes at me. “Oh, forgive me, Your Grace.” You are forgiven.
“Are you...speaking with The Superintendent right now?” Freya asked.
Nadia was writing in her book. “F-R-E-Y-A. What was that? Oh, yes, he’s being a di—uhhhhh...lightful supreme being. He’s being..great.”
“Why do you need her new name?” Zek asked, changing the subject back. “I mean, it’s cool you know, but for what specific purpose?”
“Um, she can’t just change her name, and expect everyone to start using it all of the sudden. When the Shapers go to a new time period, I have to manipulate reality to account for their new identities. When Lowell Benton changed Jeremy’s name from J.B., I had to update our records. Otherwise, he would have to start correcting people one-by-one, and that is so tedious. It’s much easier if I just send out a psychic blast. From now on, most of the people you run into who already knew you should now start using the new name. There may be a few glitches.”
“Well...” Freya began. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Nadia replied. “I’m also here for another reason. This belongs to you.” She handed Zek a business card. There was no writing on it, but it was covered in colors.
“What is this?” Zek asked.
“Rendezvous card,” Nadia said cryptically. “It’s up to you to figure out how to use it. Be at that location, and someone you’re supposed to meet will arrive as well.”
“Sounds like you’re not going to tell us who it is,” Freya presumed.
“I don’t know who it is. I just found it as a bookmark on your title page, and I know what it does. I couldn’t tell you if it’s a mission, or someone you’ve been looking for, or what, but someone has decided to put you two together, so go on and find out.”
“Thank you again,” Zek echoed.
Nadia softened her smile, and raised her hands in front of her stomach, pinkies together, palms up. She ceremoniously closed them together, as if shutting an invisible book, which served to fold her own body into a two-dimensional object, and make her disappear.
“This is a distraction,” Freya told Zek.
“We don’t know that.”
“We’re supposed to be looking for something called The Transit. That’s what Vearden said. That’s going to help us end this once and for all.”
“Have faith in the process, Freya. Now, I think I know how to work this thing. Hold onto my shoulder.”
“Okay,” Freya conceded.
Zek activated the rendezvous card by flicking it out of her hand, which transported them to some unknown location in the middle of the forest. They were alone, but not for long. Pretty soon, several spots before them started warping with technicolors. People emerged from these warp spots, and each one of them dropped their own rendezvous card into a pile in the middle of the circle. The last one was not human, but a large and imposing creature with ashy white skin. Freya knew this to be a Maramon.
This Maramon was the only one who didn’t look at least a bit bewildered. She scanned the group. “Thank you all for coming. I know you have no clue why you’re here, but I appreciate it greatly, and so does your universe.”
“What are you?” one of the others asked.
“I am a Maramon, from a dwarf universe called Ansutah. Please, ask no further questions while I explain myself. I will be answering the most important ones without prompting. My name is Khuweka Kadrioza, and even though I’m from Ansutah, I’ve been living in bladapodoverse for the last several years. It’s only there that I encountered humans who accepted my form. The fun was not destined to last, unfortunately, as a great danger came upon us; an enemy that threatens the very survival of everyone in the multiverse.”
“The Ochivari,” Freya blurted out. “Oh, sorry.”
“That’s right,” Khuweka confirmed, unperturbed by the interruption. “Saga is already fully aware of them, because this enemy originates from her universe.”
“Her name is Freya now,” Zektene corrected.
Khuweka tilted her head in thought. “Huh, you’re right. Apologies, Freya. Anyway, the Ochivari are an odd bunch. They were born with a limited ability to travel the multiverse. At first, they used this to build their empire at home, siphoning large amounts of resources from uninhabited worlds with barely a thought. Eventually, however, a sort of religion formed. They wouldn’t use that word for it, but it’s the best way to describe it, because it’s twisted and pervasive, like a cancer. Not everyone believes in the same thing, but they all serve the interests of Worlon, their home planet. Their basic tenet is that all evolved life must be destroyed. They’re antinatalists, which is ironic, because they propagate their own species to insane numbers. Normally, this would be terrible, but people like you wouldn’t get involved, because this is not your universe. But remember what I said, they travel to other universes, which is why you are all in danger, as are your people.
“Now, we could fight a war. We could build giant ships, and attack them. We could conscript the various machines and people who travel the bulkverse, but why do that when we can end it before it starts? I propose we go back to before the Ochivari are seeded on Worlon, and destroy them before they have the chance to do anything.”
The others had been listening intently, careful not to make any assumptions, or dismiss Khuweka’s concerns. They also seemed a lot more comfortable being around her than Freya would have guessed. Perhaps, though they had clearly never seen her kind before, they were used to the concept of other. A well-dressed middle aged woman took a quarter step forward. “Have you considered the ethics of this undertaking? When accounting for time travel, what you’re talking about could still be considered genocide.”
“No, I’ve not considered it much,” Khuweka responded. “That is your job, Professor. I will say, however, that this serves the greater good.”
A disheveled man raised his hand.
“Yes, Limerick?”
“Do I still get to punch somebody?” He assessed the group. “I can’t believe I’m here for any other reason than I’m good at punching people.”
Khuweka sighed and massaged her forehead. “You remember you’re in another universe, right?”
“Yeah, you said that,” Limerick replied.
“I don’t have the ability to do that myself. I got all these people here, because of you. You brought them here, so that’s what you bring to the table. You’re a bulkverse traveler, just like the Ochivari.”
He squinted at her, like the two of them were just trying to figure out which actor was in a particular movie, and even though she was obviously right, he couldn’t help but not believe her. “I don’t remember that.”
“Yes, I know,” an exasperated Khuweka said. “That’s what happens when totally shitfaced is your resting state. I need you to sober up, and get with the program. It’s time to be a big boy, and do something productive for a change.”
Limerick mockingly straightened up, and bounced his head all hoity-toity like. “We’ll see.”
“Well,” Khuweka continued, “you all now know Limerick Hawthorne. He’s right, if someone does need punching during this mission, he’ll be able to help with that as well. You also met Freya Einarsson, who is here because she is familiar with this universe, and the progression of the timelines. Her friend, Zektene Cormanu is a teleporter from the Composite Universe, which will come in handy, no doubt. Doctor Andraste Spellmeyer will act as our resident ethicist, because as she pointed out, what we’re doing here isn’t exactly the Middle Way. She is from Universe Prime, and she has never met an alien, or a time traveler, or anything before. Round of applause for how graceful and patient she’s being with us.”
They clap.
“Moving on, Carbrey Genovese is our engineer. He’s from Flipverse, and he’s going to build us a spaceship, and pilot it. Don’t worry, I’ll get you the specs for the reframe engine.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Carbrey said.
“Essentially faster-than-light travel, Freya filled him in.
“Oh, okay. Well, no promises, I’ve never built a spaceship before.”
“Wait,” Limerick jumped in. “You said he’s from Flipverse, and other people are from other places. Where am I from? What would you call it?”
“Most universes don’t get their own names,” Khuweka tried to explain delicately. “Yours is one of the many. You can call it Limerickverse, if you want.”
“I want.”
“If there are no further interruptions, I can introduce our last crew member.” Khuweka looked over at the humbly quiet man who had actually separated himself from the group by nearly a meter. “Do you want to step back into the circle?”
The man hesitated, but approached. “Hi, my name is Landis Tipton, and I’m from a universe called Voldisilaverse. I am a kenvoldisil, which means I was not born voldisil, but turned into one later when a group of them died, and transferred their abilities unto me.” He took a step back, apparently believing that was enough of an explanation.
Khuweka was trying to be patient with him. “Do you wanna tell us what abilities you have?”
Not really, but Landis didn’t care much for confrontation. “I can see your regrets, smell your health, hear your desires, feel your pain, and taste your lies.”
Limerick suddenly turned into a decent and put-together human being. “Right on, man.”
Khuweka smiled at Landis. “He can also reverse his abilities, using them primarily to cure people by breathing on them. He saved millions of lives one by one, and billions once they figured out how to replicate his healing ability.”
“I once knew people who could cure others by breathing on them,” Zektene said.
“Yes, by using organic nanotechnology. This is different. Voldisilaverse is unlike any I’ve ever heard of. My people are ruthless and unfeeling. They’ve never met a human they didn’t want to kill, except for the few they revere as gods. But when they discovered Landis’ version of Earth, something turned them away; not out of fear, but...respect, and maybe even empathy? Something made them not want to hurt his people.”
“We’re not all good,” Landis revealed, then slunk back away, immediately regretting having volunteered to speak.
“Well, at least two of you are,” Khuweka acknowledged. “Another voldisil is the one who contacted me. She can see things that are happening in other universes, and it was she who told me who belongs on this team. Now it’s up to all of us to prove her right.”

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