Saturday, February 6, 2021

Exemption Act: Well-Intentioned Extremists (Part VI)

After debrief, Freya and the rest of the team went back to their universe. Well, it wasn’t all of their universe, but this one certainly wasn’t home for any of them. Not anymore. Had they stayed, the leadership at Bellevue would have wanted to keep apologizing every five minutes until heat death destroyed everything trillions of years later, and that wasn’t helping anything. Zek could not be saved but for time travel, and that was against policy on their world. Sure, Limerick could ultimately punch a portal, and deliver them back to Zek’s universe in a moment before the first time they showed up, but all that would do was create a copy of everyone. This version of Zek would still be a diamond, and that would still be irreversible. The remaining team members were silent and aimless when they returned to the hangar underneath their newly retrofitted Sharice Davids. There was a suggestion that they change the name, and everything else about its appearance, in order to prevent anyone from ever realizing what ship it truly was, but they hadn’t gotten around to that yet.
It took them a hot minute before they realized a stranger stood among them. She was just standing there patiently, waiting to be addressed. “Um...who are you?” Freya questioned.
“My name is Eliana Prime,” the stranger replied.
“Is that your real last name?” Limerick asked, fully aware that wasn’t really the most pressing question here.
“It is a surname blend,” Eliana answered. “My parents were...complicated. I didn't want to take either name, but also didn’t want to make up something random.”
“What are you doing here?” Freya was in no mood to be polite.
“Now, hold on,” Khuweka warned. “She could very well have every right to be here. We too are squatters.”
“I have no right to be here.” Eliana was quiet, even-tempered, and presumably quite understanding. She seemed like the type of person who was always open and honest, but never volunteered information, instead generally only speaking when spoken to.
“Then why are you here?” Landis asked.
“Bellevue sent me as operational replacement for your original teleporter, Zektene Cormanu. The keyword here is operational. I shall make no attempt to instantiate myself into the social role she filled within the group. I am only here to transport you where you need to go, and will do everything I can to ease any thoughts you might have that I might have the expectation to be accepted, or treated as one of you.”
Limerick stared at her blankly, nearly drooling on the floor as he did so. “Did anyone else follow that? Because I did, I know what she said. I just wanna make sure you’re all on our level.”
Khuweka sighed. “She wants to be our teleporter, but she understands she cannot replace Zek as our friend.”
“How did you even get to this universe?” Carbrey asked her. “I went through the portal last, and it closed right behind me. I would have seen you.”
“I can teleport through portals,” Eliana explained. “It’s a little like jumping out of a train on a bridge, and landing on a plane as it’s taking off below, but it can be done. Bellevue disapproved of the secrecy, but I decided it would be best if we had this conversation here, rather than there. If you would prefer to send me back, I will not argue, or try to convince you otherwise. But now that I’m already here anyway, it might be easier for you to justify my recruitment to your respective selves.”
“Again. Totally understand what you said,” Limerick claimed, fooling no one.
“Better to ask for forgiveness later than for permission now, and be told no,” Andraste translated.
“Oh,” Limerick realized. “That’s my excuse for everything I do.”
“I don’t think we need to vote,” Khuweka determined. “If you reject her nomination, then just speak up. I will say this, we need a teleporter. That booster platform doesn’t work on me, but it def will on her.”
Landis handed the Zek-diamond to Carbrey. “Zek greatly appreciates that she’s here, and challenges anyone to come up with a good reason not to accept every capacity as a member of this team.” He stepped forward, and offered Eliana his hand. “Can you jump blind?”
“I can,” Eliana replied. “I can even let a passenger be navigator through a mild and temporary psychic link.”
“Then let us go up to The Sharice, and find you some quarters.”
Eliana looked to the rest of the group, still waiting for anyone to speak now, or forever hold their peace. Once she was made rightly confident by the silence, the two of them disappeared together.
“Now that that’s done,” Khuweka began, “we should run mission simulations.”
“We need to come up with a new name for the ship first,” Carbrey said. “My simulations will rely upon this. Or rather, they might falter to the ambiguity or uncertainty.”
Freya stepped over and took Zek from his arms. “It already has a new name.” She started to walk away with her friend. “It’s The Cormanu.”

Two years later, they were ready for mission launch. Whether she meant to or not, Eliana was able to integrate nicely into the team. She became fast friends with Zek, and even coached her through her new life as a gemstone. Making physical contact with Zek was only necessary at first to start forming a psychic bond. As time went on, these bonds grew stronger, until they discovered that she was capable of maintaining a persistent connection to her crew all the way on the other side of the planet. She was still just as much part of the team as she was before, and continued to participate in their training. They had to learn how to work together, and how to overcome obstacles and complications.
They fell into job roles that went beyond the responsibilities for which they were originally recruited. Andraste was a great cook, and Landis adopted the responsibility of overseeing the general maintenance of the vessel. His life as a healer had been so dull. To maximize his abilities, he sat in a chair for literally half the day as the terminally ill stood in line, and came up to him one by one. He couldn’t watch TV, or read, or learn something new. He lost all sense of wonder, and was not used to being around people who didn’t worship him. He was happy to be busy now. It helped him find himself again, and enjoy the company. Limerick was an entertainer at heart, which helped keep the team from getting lost in the mission, and not taking time out for themselves. Two years was a long time to do nothing but work. Khuweka taught them all the Maramon language, which wasn’t probably ever going to come up, but it was nice to have a way to communicate with each other that most others wouldn’t be able to decipher. They had their psychic connections with Zek to take care of that in most cases, but you never know.
Carbrey was pretty much only the engineer, and that was absolutely enough. His was the most important job, and they banded together to alleviate the burden as much as possible. They all learned some basic mechanics, so it wouldn’t just be on him. Freya took this the most seriously. The others watched some tutorials, and hung around while Carbrey did his work. Freya actually transported to the Kansas City Arcology, and entered an accelerated engineering education program. It wasn’t enough to make her an expert in the time allotted—and she still didn’t feel comfortable calling herself an engineer—but it made her competent in the field, and perfectly suited to serve as Carbrey’s assistant. It reminded her of working as a nurse with Dr. Sarka. Neither was a profession she ever intended to be part of, but both opportunities were important when they arrived, and she ultimately found them to be very rewarding.
On launch day, Eliana strapped herself into the chair on the booster platform, and used it to interface with the rest of the ship. Carbrey was in charge of running the whole ship, so it became Freya’s duty to make sure Eliana was both effective, and safe. They ran a final systems check, crossed their fingers, and jumped away.
There was a bit of confusion as the teleportation interlocker of The Cormanu started to power down to high idle. The navigation systems were evidently not perfectly calibrated for the jump, which meant it was going to take a minute to figure out exactly where they were. And that was a literal measure of time. It was only going to take around sixty seconds, and then they would be fine, but Carbrey was freaking out, because it felt like an eternity to him. As Freya was confirming Eliana’s vital signs, she could hear him on the shipwide comms, barking orders at people, trying to expedite this process. He didn’t have zero reason to be worried, as the whole purpose of this exercise was to clear present-day Earthan detection space, so that no one would know they existed. Still, there was no way to get the computer to make the necessary calculations faster, and panicking wasn’t helping anything.
A minute later, the computer confirmed their highest of hopes. One light year. They were exactly one light year from Earth. “Is that possible?” Carbrey asked. “I was to understand we would barely pass the plutinos.
Different universe, different interpretation of the physical laws,” Khuweka guessed. “Bellevue’s prediction of our maximum jump distance was based on their understanding of these laws, not ours.
“What does this mean,” Landis asked, “in practical terms?” He was leaning against the wall of the booster compartment, ready to heal Eliana, should she need it. It was looking like she wouldn’t. She reported feeling as good as she ever did after a jump.
It means we can go a lot faster, right?” Limerick figured. “A jump takes about a second. Eighty-seven light years equals eighty-seven seconds. That’s under two minutes on my world.
“She’s not going to do that,” Freya said as she was needlessly dabbing Eliana’s forehead with a warm washcloth.
She won’t have to,” Khuweka promised. “We wouldn’t do this through burst mode, even if there weren’t a biological consideration. It will take us forty-five days to get to Worlon at maximum reframe. I want us to get there in forty-five days. Not forty-six, not forty-four. This is the schedule, and we’re sticking to it. Miss Prime did her job, and now it’s done.
Freya curved her index finger and thumb towards each other, and twisted them once, gesturing to Landis that he should mute his comm badge. They were very sensitive, and while the humans would not have been able to hear her talking from across the room, the ship’s sensors would pick it up, and log it. “You want to say something, Eliana. What is it?”
“It wasn’t just me,” Eliana told her quietly. “I didn’t jump us this far out alone.”
“Who else could have done this?” Freya asked, the answer came to her quickly. “Zektene.”
Eliana nodded. “She still has her anomaly ability. She may even be stronger now. You never needed me.”
Freya ran her fingers through Eliana’s hair. “I’m glad you’re here anyway.”
While their end of the comms was muted, they could still hear outgoing messages. “Boot up the reframe engine, Mr. Genovese,” Khuweka ordered. “Let’s take this show on the road.
The doors to the booster compartment opened, and Kivi walked in, holding Diamond Zek in her arms. It didn’t look comfortable for her. Landis held out his own arms, not to commandeer the diamond, but be passively available, should Kivi want to have a rest.
“We should put her on a cart, or something,” Freya suggested. “I can rig something up quite nice. I’ll make it look like a throne.”
“We’ve been talking privately,” Kivi said. “Zek is not sure if she wants to inform the rest of the crew about what happened.”
“She added a second boost to the jump?” Freya asked. “We already know.”
“No, not that,” Kivi said. “We’ll tell everyone about that. No, she saw something on the way. Or, I guess it was more of a feeling?” She hesitated.
“What is it, Kivi?”
“She believes we are being followed.”
Landis stepped forward. “Who would have such capabilities?”
Freya shook her head, not to answer in the negative, but because there was no answer. “You have to understand something about my universe. Time travel is all but ubiquitous. It’s not that everyone has it, but anyone may have it. If something exists at any point, it exists in all points. Everyone is dead, everyone is alive. Almost nothing can’t be undone. Who else can shadow the fastest ship in the stellar neighborhood? Someone from the future, or one that’s piloted by a man named The Trotter...or maybe his son, I don’t know. They would have to interface with their vessel in some way, but that’s not too difficult when you have all of time and space to figure it out. If you want to know who specifically possesses comparable speeds, I’ve never heard of it, but that in no way means this person or persons don’t exist.”
Kivi finally handed Diamond Zek to Landis. “Due to this uncertainty, I feel it is best we inform the crew, so that we may prepare for any eventuality. I do not want to use the weapons systems, but we may have no other choice.” She turned to walk away.
Freya stopped her. “Wait. Do you know who our shadow could be? You’re from this universe too.”
Kivi chuckled once. “I was literally born yesterday. Don’t you remember?”
On that bizarre note, Kivi left, and Eliana took this opportunity to get herself out of the booster seat before Freya could stop her. “I don’t need rest, I’m fine.” She demanded that Freya give her some space, so she could move about the cabin upon her own agency. As she passed Landis, she patted Diamond Zek like she was a loyal dog. “Thanks for the assist, cuz.” They weren’t really cousins, but seeing as they were both descended from the original Composite Universe astral teleporter—a man by the name of Nur—they were technically related, albeit across two timelines.
As they were discussing the possibilities, and their options, as a group later, Freya noticed that Kivi insisted on holding Diamond Zek in her lap, which was weird. That was no longer necessary, as they should have all been fully capable of communicating with Zek through a permanent psychic connection.
Andraste interrupted her thought process as she was questioning Kivi’s very existence. “What do you think? Do we prepare for war?”
“I’m sorry?” Freya hadn’t really been paying attention.
“As per usual,” Andraste started over, “Khuweka, Limerick, and Carbrey are ready to fight. They’ve all done it before. Landis and I disagree, as does Zek. Kivi is abstaining from voting.”
“She is, is she?” Freya questioned, still suspicious of the ninth crewmember. “I mean...okay. Wait, am I the tie-breaker?” She started checking people off.
“No,” Andraste said, “there are eight voters. Both you and Eliana have yet to respond.”
Freya couldn’t help but continue to leer at Kivi, who seemed unsurprised by this. She broke herself out of the trance so she could address the crowd. “I think we’re all on our way to commit time genocide.” She stood up from the table. “Having scruples about a hypothetical space battle with an invisible enemy is a bit like washing down your entire large pizza with a diet cola. We may be well-intentioned, but we are still extremists. Everybody needs to find a way to embrace their dark side, and get on board, because it’s too late to get off.” She walked down the table, and placed her hand on Diamond Zek, but looked into Kivi’s eyes. “We need to talk.” All three of them teleported to the other side of the ship.

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