Saturday, June 12, 2021

Sic Transit...Tempus (Part IV)

Image credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / Gordan Ugarkovic
Treasure felt bad about holing herself up in her train car, and not doing even a little bit to help them all escape this place, or at least find out where they were. She had all this power, and she should have thought to use it. It just didn’t occur to her that she could do any bit of good for their situation. She was sixteen years old, and had yet to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Explorer was the best that she could figure, because of her bulk traveling abilities, but that wasn’t a job; not really. “I’m sorry,” she felt compelled to say, as they were all making the trek to the front of the train, where the main engines were.
“I hope you’re not worried about it,” Azura said. “You couldn’t have known you would magically be able to activate the computer systems. If anyone should have realized that, it should have been me. Now I realize that the reason the computers worked sometimes is because of residual bulk energy that my body has absorbed. It also explains why it gets less and less reliable each time, as the energy dissolves like nitrogen. You, on the other hand, probably produce bulk energy, which is why you’re able to spontaneously open shatter portals. I’m sure your father does as well.”
“Does that mean I don’t actually need to scream to make it happen? Could I just do it on my own, maybe by punching?”
“It’s possible. I’m no expert, I just have experience. It’s also entirely possible that producing bulk energy isn’t enough, that you need some way to harness it. It could be like visual processing and interpretation. Your brain is the thing that’s capable of processing the light it receives from external sources, but you still need eyes to receive that light. The brain wouldn’t be able to do it on its own. My guess is that your scream is like the organ that can actually use the energy in your body.”
“What’s wrong with my voice now? My neck is healed, but I can’t speak louder than a whisper, let alone scream.”
“You suffer from vocal cord paresis. I patched you up, and your body is healing, but I don’t have the skills or tools to make a sufficient prognosis. might continue to improve. I’m sure there are exercises you can do with your throat that aid recovery, but I’m not cognizant of them, so for now, keep using that tiara, and rest.”
“It’s weird that this tiara was in the medkit,” Treasure pointed out. “Do people get shot in the throat a lot?”
Azura laughed. “That’s not designed for people who can’t speak. Vertean is the primary language in their universe during that time period, but there are a few planets who developed mostly independently, and created their own languages. That tiara lets Olkan communicate with others. It reads brainwaves, instead of translating voices.”
“Who’s Olkan?” Treasure asked.
“That guy right there.” Azura gestured towards one of the men behind them. He didn’t speak English but he recognized his own name, and knew they were talking about him.
“Oh. I should give it back,” Treasure said, hoping to not actually have to do that.
“It’s fine. He knows a little Vertean, and is getting by. He knows you need it more. They’re good people, once you get to know them. We were on the opposite sides of a war that should never have begun, but their cause is not without its merits. I even agree with them on principle, just not with their methods.”
They were finally in engineering. The systems, including the engines, finally booted up, and Treasure could feel the sense of relief in the room. They had been working on this for so long, and now we had hope. They all went their separate ways, and started working at their respective stations. Apparently, Azura taught the Verteans some Maramon, so they could get going. They were all clearly getting stuck, though.
“Okay,” Azura said. “I could use your tiara just temporarily, though. If we interface it with the computer, it will be able to—”
“Translate to their native tongue,” Treasure finished. “Of course.” She removed it from her head, and handed it over. Then she stood in silence, and watched them work. It was then that she realized that one young man was still back by the entrance, not doing anything. He was just watching everyone, like she was. She was about to introduce herself, which she realized she could neither speak, nor understand him. It had only been a few minutes, and it was already getting to be too frustrating. Azura said that it would be about fifteen more minutes before she figured out how to connect the tiara with the computer, so Treasure decided to go grab some water from the dining car. As soon as she crossed the threshold to the next car down, everything shut off. She could hear the cries of irritation in the others. She immediately hopped back in, which powered the systems back up.
“Apparently, you can’t leave if we want to keep these on,” Azura realized. “I was not aware of this either. What did you need?”
Treasure mimed drinking water from a glass.
Azura said something to the boy who wasn’t doing anything, prompting him to leave. Treasure waved her hands in front of her chest. “It’s okay,” Azura said. “That’s what he’s there for. He’s like a roadie, but for soldiers. He carries extra weapons and ammo, and sends messages to other units. The closest thing to it on your world would probably be the quartermaster, but I think I would translate it to Valet, because Quino garners a lot less respect than a quartermaster. He was born on a fairly poor planet, so he doesn’t have all that much education, and he’s meant to just feel lucky he has a purpose in life. Only a couple people here are actual engineers, but the rest are decades old, and have studied lots of different things. He’s closer to your age.”
Treasure frowned. That didn’t sound very fair.
“He’s getting refreshments for all of us,” Azura clarified.
A little while later, another soldier got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on the screen. They exchanged words in their language, and everyone else started listening. Azura sighed, and prepared to explain it all in English. “Okay, so you’re constantly emitting low levels of bulk energy. You, at all times, straddle the dimensional membrane, and let energy pass through freely. Don’t worry, I doubt it’ll cause you any problems, or cause anyone else any problems. Microscopic tears in the membrane form and heal all the time. Most worlds call it dark energy or vacuum energy, and it’s what causes the expansion of their respective universes. It just so happens that your tear never heals. The Transit was designed to run on multiple power systems, and apparently, the guy who stole it removed almost all of them. He couldn’t remove any of the bulk transistors, though, or he would have just destroyed the whole thing. I don’t know why he chose not to do that, but perhaps he knew we would be coming? It would explain why he left the dining car with the food synthesizers intact.”
Treasure tried to ask what that meant for her, but the gestures weren’t conveying the information clearly. Azura noticed that the tiara was done syncing, so she handed it back. “What does this mean?” she asked. “What does it mean for me?”
“It means that we can take this thing wherever we want to go,” Azura said, “as long as you’re with us. To free us from our reliance on you, we would need to replace the other power systems, like the antimatter drives, fusion reactors, and fuel cells. The good news is that that’s totally doable. I can think of three universes off the top of my head that could accommodate our needs.”
“What are you, uhh...what are you gonna do with this thing?” Treasure questioned. She knew what The Transit was. Her parents spoke of it. It was her mother’s intention when she first left her friends to find The Transit, and use it in the oncoming fight against the Ochivari. She and her partner at the time, Zektene switched gears by joining a crew that planned to stop the Ochivari from existing in the first place. This was where they met her dad, Limerick. When their mission failed, they got sidetracked from having to raise their daughter. Surely they would still want this, and surely Treasure had a high claim to it since this was her universe. The problem was that Azura had a higher claim, since it originated in her universe, and that could create some conflict.
Azura was very good at reading people, and understanding subtext. “I’m going to get these people home, and then I’m going to take you home, so your mother and I can fight over who maintains control over it. Yes, I know what her mission was. Yes, I know that this vessel is crucial in the Darning Wars. No, nobody really knows who’s in charge of The Transit Army. It might be her...but it might be me.” She looked next to her at one of the soldiers. “It might be this guy right here.”
“I’m sure it’s not me,” that guy said.
Both Treasure and Azura were surprised by this. “Whoa. Hadron, you speak English? How is that possible?”
“I speak every language in Vertea,” Hadron answered. “I’ve always been very good at picking new ones up quickly. I’ve been studying English and Maramon since we got here, since I’m not good at much else.”
“How, though?” Azura pressed. “I can’t get anything to stay on for more than a few minutes at a time.”
“I’ve been sleeping in the car next to hers.” Hadron pointed to Treasure. “Before you get huffy, I didn’t know that that was why. I figured that particular car happened to have its own power source. I looked through it, though. It only contains entertainment and cultural research. It has no information about the ship itself, so it wouldn’t have done us any good.”
Now someone else got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on her screen. They talked a little bit. The others weren’t that fascinated.
“Hyperion,” Azura said. “It’s a moon around Saturn, and has an orbital period of about twenty-one days, that checks out. It’s very small, and we are presently seven thousand years before the common era. That makes sense too, because the man who put this here didn’t want to have to worry about someone stumbling upon it. Not even a trotter would think to come to a place like this in a time like this.”
Treasure was concerned. “What about communications? If the Maramon computer can tell where we are, does that mean we’re connected to some kind of network?”
“Nah, that’s all gone,” Azura promised. “That’s the first thing we checked. The comms array has been utterly removed. The thieves likely left it in Ansutah, because they wouldn’t have wanted to be tracked either.”
Quino returned with a cart full of drinks and snacks. Everyone took a break to eat. Everyone...but one. The woman who figured out they were on Hyperion chose to keep working at her station. She seemed very determined to figure something else out. Curious, Treasure looked over her shoulder. The woman didn’t seem to mind it. Some of it appeared in Vertean, but it was also still in Maramon. Treasure spoke Maramon quite fluently, but she didn’t read all that well, and the data on the screens was all very technical. It contained a lot of words that Miss Collins wouldn’t have thought to teach her, so she had to make a few assumptions based on her intuition.
“Treasure, what are you seeing over there?” Azura asked after a few minutes.
“She can explain it better,” Treasure replied, “but I think we have to spend another twenty-one days here.”
Azura thought about it. “There’s a little bit of logic to that. You can only enter or leave at a particular moment, and it’s the moment that the time loop first began. That’s why the grenade brought us here exactly when it did.” She translated the explanation into Vertean, so everyone else would understand. They all seemed fine with it. Three weeks wasn’t that long, and they knew that it didn’t matter how long they spent outside of their universe, they could return to any moment, including the one right after the one they left. Of course, they could die before ever making it back, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. As long as the synthesizers kept producing food, they should be safe here.
So they waited. Treasure’s role on the ship was wildly different than it was during the first half of their vacation. Where once she was isolated and unhelpful, now she was vital to the mission. She was getting a lot of exercise, running back and forth from the front of the ship, to the middle, to the back. It felt like punishment, but at least it was keeping her fit. Did this thing have to be so long, though? Most of the cars were designed to accommodate soldiers and their cargo, but three of them were used to keep the ship running. It was modular, as one might expect. Each car was capable of traveling through space on its own, but only the first and last could pierce a portal through the universal membrane. They needed to both be in operational order, to maximize their chances of escaping this universe, and accumulating the right resources. Treasure tried to expand the breadth of her power, but was only ever able to power systems from one car over. One of the crew was a medic, and was able to help her come up with some recovery exercises. She still couldn’t scream, but she was eventually able to speak at a very low volume, which was enough to allow her to return the tiara to Olkan.
When they weren’t maintaining the engines, the crew was taking a page out of Hadron’s book, and learning English. They didn’t do it for Treasure’s benefit alone. Though they were supposedly going back to where they were, they wanted to know the dominant language in the bulkverse, in case something like this ever happened again. While they weren’t all particularly adept at learning languages, most of them were a couple centuries old, and had a lot of experience with gathering new skills. Lifelong education was kind of the defining characteristic of their galaxy. That didn’t mean everyone had access to it, but the longer someone was alive, the more chances they found to add to their repertoire. By the time they left Hyperion, all of them had a working proficiency, and were speaking English exclusively for practice.
When their forty-two days were up, they gathered in the engine car again, and took off.

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