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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Sic Transit...Lar Familiaris (Part II)

Treasure had never traveled the bulk on purpose before. In fact, she had no recollection of ever having done it. She didn’t even have proof growing up that she was capable of such a thing. Perhaps the time she transported her family to this world, and the time she accidentally transported to some random dangerous world by herself, were all lies her parents made up. Why would they do this? Why would they force her to wear a collar, and claim it was so she didn’t end up getting lost in the multiverse? What could possibly be weirder—or worse— than that? Nothing, apparently, because as she was proving now, it was all true. Her scream really could resonate at the right frequency to break a temporary hole in the membrane of the universe, and allow her to jump to other worlds. Unfortunately, her father had promised to teach her how to use her powers once she turned eighteen. They were planning a family vacation on that day to celebrate. Since she was leaving early, she didn’t know what she was doing, or where she was going. She could figure it out eventually, though, as long as she survived long enough. Once she did, she would be able to return home at the very same moment she left, and unless she said something, her parents would never know exactly how long the trip was from her perspective. But again, she had to survive.
Alarms were blaring, and she could hear gunfire outside the door. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the low lighting. This room appeared to be an advanced futuristic laboratory, but what did she know? If this really was a different universe, their history could be unlike anything she had ever studied before in Miss Collins’ class. There were an infinite number of branes in the bulk, and this could be pretty much any one of them. The furniture and instruments looked somewhat familiar, though, so it probably wasn’t the version of Earth where dinosaurs evolved planet-dominating intelligence instead of humans. She wanted to escape, fearing for her life, but she couldn’t just leave without doing something. One time, when she was younger, she took a train to visit Chicago. It stopped to pick up a few more passengers in Iowa, so she took that opportunity to step off the train, just so she could say she once went to Iowa. But she hadn’t really. She was out there for all of thirty seconds, and had never returned for real. This could not be a repeat of that. She needed to explore, to make some mark—however small—so someone could corroborate her claim that she was here.
She stepped over to the door, and cracked it open carefully. The gunfire was farther away now, so she hoped the hallway would be empty. It wasn’t. Someone pulled the door open all the way, and forced himself in, nearly knocking Treasure down to the floor. He shut the door behind him, and pressed his ear against it. Treasure straightened up her clothes, and cleared her throat. “What’s going on?” Treasure whispered.
The man hissed at her in a language she didn’t know.
“I’m whispering,” she explained, even quieter this time.
He hissed at her again, and tightened the suction of his ear on the metal. They waited for a good five minutes. Once he was convinced they were safe for now, he breathed a sigh of relief, and started trying to talk to her. Language was the weirdest thing about the bulkverse, according to her studies. All these different worlds, some not even just alternate versions of Earth, but unrelated planets. And they all pretty much spoke English. It was the dominant language everywhere. Of course, other languages existed, but Miss Collins spoke of only a few planets that developed completely without it. The evolved dinosaur one was an example. This was a human, and she didn’t know what language he was speaking. It didn’t sound like anything she had ever heard before, except maybe...Ancient Egyptian?
They continued to try to communicate with each other, using hand gestures and facial expressions. He pretended to hold a gun, presumably asking whether she was armed. When she shook her head, he got really offended, and tried to frisk her, which she promptly put an end to. He put up his hands, somewhat apologetically, but not sincerely, and started pantomiming again. He held up an invisible gun, pointed to the door, and turned his fingers into legs. He opened a hypothetical door, and entered what he seemed to think was a glorious room. Something was lining the walls. Paintings? No. More finger guns. All different kinds. He threw a grenade. An armory. He wanted them to go search for an armory. Treasure wanted to shake her head again, but she didn’t know what to do. Was this guy a terrorist who deserved to be caught by the authorities? Was he an innocent accountant for this place who was just trying to escape? There was no way to know which side of this conflict she had stumbled upon. The only way she was going to understand it is if somebody here happened to speak English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, or Maramon.
Treasure relented, and followed the man out the door. They crept down the dim hallways, sticking to the walls as much as possible. They could still hear gunfire, but it was even fainter now. That certainly suggested an attack, rather than an authoritative raid. She would think cops would leave agents scattered throughout, instead of just moving through the whole thing together. But maybe not. There was no telling how large this facility was. She didn’t know what they did here, or why there was both a lab and an armory. They kept going until they could no longer hear the bullets. They were replaced with humming. It didn’t sound ominous or evil, but pleasant and comfortable. She almost sounded...bored. The man wanted to get away from it, but Treasure insisted they go check it out. If she was another survivor, they had to know, and if she wasn’t, Treasure could always scream.
They slipped through the door, and into what looked like a hock. The woman was alone, locked up, and didn’t stop humming when she saw them. Her arm was lying on the floor, which looked quite uncomfortable. She appeared to be stuck there. The two of them started speaking to each other in their language, so Treasure just stood there patiently. The conversation became heated, though, and he grew angry. It almost looked like he was blaming her for something. Finally, he took Treasure by the shoulder, and tried to pull her out. “No,” she responded, pushing his hand off of her. “What’s going on?”
“I couldn’t give him the answers he was looking for, so he’s abandoning me here,” the woman explained.
“Wait, you speak English?” Treasure questioned.
“I do, yes. I’m from Ansutah.” That was one of the bad universes. Miss Collins would never use such a word, because she was a kind and understanding person, but all the students got the idea. It was populated by monsters, who broke off of the universe that Treasure’s mother was from. They caused a lot of problems all over the bulk. They weren’t as bad as the Ochivari, but it was dangerous to trust them.
“You’re one of the human refugees,” Treasure guessed.
The man started complaining again, forcing the prisoner to get back into the argument. She dismissed him, and he finally gave up, deciding to leave me behind, and go look for his precious armory.
“Sorry about that. I’m half human, half Maramon. They call us hybrids. My name is Azura, and I was sent to this universe to neutralize one Missy Atterberry as a threat.”
“So you are bad?” Treasure said.
Azura scoffed and laughed at the same time. “No, I never had any intention of doing that. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Missy won’t show up here for another several billion years. I purposely screwed with the algorithm, so my creator would send me to the wrong time period.”
“Oh. My name is Treasure. I’m from voldisilaverse,” she felt compelled to reveal.
“I see. You don’t seem like a pretentious asshole.”
“I wouldn’t call them that. They’re just...proud of themselves.”
“What did I say?” she joked.
“Umm. Are you, like, bolted to the floor?”
“Kinda, yeah. These people hacked into our medical implants, and pushed the gravity up to eleven. I only survived because of my Maramon side. It won’t last forever, though. If you could kindly hand me that cuff right there, I would be eternally grateful.”
Treasure looked over at the object on the table. “What does it do?”
“It will disable my chip, putting my gravity back to normal. You don’t have to unlock the gate, I just don’t want to die on the floor.”
Miss Collins taught them about the adventures of The Newtonian Expats, and The Hybrids. The latter were sent to remove the time powers of the former. Each ended up in a different universe when The Crossover exploded, and started impacting history from there. Most of the hybrids switched sides, and became friends with the Expats, but not all of them, and this Azura person was never mentioned. Still, if Treasure was going to make her own difference, she had to start by giving Azura the benefit of the doubt. That was what Miss Collins would do. Treasure grabbed the implant disabling device, and slipped it through the bars. Azura pushed the buttons on the screen, which were displaying what looked like hieroglyphs. She wrapped the cuff around her arm as well as she could, and activated it. Then she was able to stand back up after however long. She stretched, and massaged the implant site.
“Why are you in here?” Treasure asked.
“I built this device,” Azura said, holding up the cuff. “The implant tracks every single member of the Astral Military Force. I really just wanted to be able to go off-world without my superiors knowing about it. I didn’t know it could have saved lives. As it stands, other than me, it only saved two.”
“Where are the other two?”
“Off fighting against the invasion, I imagine, surely presuming me dead. I did pass out for a while. Anyway, thank you for your help—”
“I’ll let you out,” Treasure assured her. “You don’t have to be weird about it.”
“Okay, thanks, because...I don’t belong in here. As punishment, they would have made me clean the restrooms for a few weeks at worst.” She guided Treasure towards the keycard, which unlocked the hock gate. She repeated herself, “Thank you for your help, but we should get you to safety. This is no place for a youngling. Where is the door to the Crossover?”
“I didn’t come in the Crossover.”
“Hm. The Prototype?”
Treasure shook her head. “It’s just this thing I can do.”
“Hmm. You weren’t on the list.”
“The list of what?” Treasure questioned, worried.
“The list of people who can travel the bulkverse,” Azura clarified. “You’re not on that list. With a name like that, I would have remembered.”
“I’ll use that to my advantage.”
“That would be wise. Though...because of time travel, once the secret gets out, it was always out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Two questions, did that guy know where the armory is, and do you?”
“Not really, and yes. He was just a visitor who wishes he had come yesterday instead. The armory is just next door.”
“That seems stupid.”
Azura smiled. “This hock is meant for insubordinate soldiers who they don’t plan on kicking out of the military. If I were a traitor, or deserter, or something, they would have put me somewhere much more secure. This is mostly my commanding officer’s office. What does it matter, though, aren’t you just going home?”
“I have to help you. It’s why I’m here. Let me get you to wherever it is you need to be.”
The two of them stepped out of the hock office, and down to the next door. Treasure kept watch while Azura punched in the code. They walked in, and started gathering supplies. Azura took weapons and tactical gear, but Treasure just fitted herself with a bullet proof vest, and a helmet. Her father taught her how to defend herself, but no one trained her on weapons, and she grew up in a fairly peaceful world. All she wanted to do was protect herself, not hurt anybody. Azura, meanwhile, was carefully removing a grenade from a lockbox, placing it into a smaller box, and lowering it into her bag.
“You really need a grenade?” she asked.
“This is not a grenade,” Azura answered. “Are you ready to go?”
“Where are we going?”
“The Condensed Command Center. There will be very few survivors, and they will all convene there.”
“Okay.”
They opened the door, and tried to leave the room, but were immediately spotted by the enemy. Before she could react, Treasure heard a shot, and felt a choking pain on her neck. Something wet rolled down her chest, and she fell to her back. Azura returned fire only briefly, before dragging Treasure back into the armory, and locking it.

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