Saturday, October 30, 2021

Extremus: Year 16

Omega and Valencia transport their time shuttle to over a year in the future. It isn’t clear the exact date as the system needs some time to recalibrate. Since they’re so far from the stellar neighborhood already, drift timing data is rather scarce. It will still be another several centuries before the Topdown telescopes are in place in the intergalactic voids. They’re already mapping the Milky Way, but have sent little information about the systems all the way out here.
The situation is dire when they first arrive, though, so the two of them aren’t really worried too much about getting their bearings. They’re right in the middle of space debris. Their teleportation field is just as good as the one on the Extremus, except that it’s smaller, and closer to the hull. The inertial negators can only do so much to prevent them from feeling the effects of the collisions. “We have to transport out of here!” Omega cries.
“We don’t know how big this field is!” Valencia yells back. “Our instruments aren’t calibrated yet!”
“We have to take the risk! Computer, initiate burst mode!”
Initiating burst mode,” the AI replies.
The engine powers up, and flings them away. Then it keeps doing that for the next several seconds. With each successive jump, the space turbulence decreases, until it seems safe enough to reenter realtime. “Computer, cease burst mode,” Valencia orders. The shuttle stops teleporting. “Assess the damage.”
Damage minimal. Repairs underway.
“Thank you,” Omega says politely.
“Man, that was bad,” Valencia points out. “I mean, I’ve seen the strike data, and monitored the time field’s power consumption, but you never really know what it’s like until you’re really in it.”
“Yeah, that was worse than I thought it would be; worse than it should have been.”
“Why is there so much stuff in interstellar space? This doesn’t make any sense. Nothing in what we’ve learned about the galaxy up until this point suggests that this is how it should be.”
“Computer, how are repairs going?” Omega asks.
Swimmingly,” it answers, proving that the personality traits are at the correct and acceptable levels.
“Could you do something for me at the same time? Could you map the space debris we were just in to as great a degree of accuracy as possible? You have permission to transport us closer to gather the necessary information. Obviously stay at a safe distance.”
The shuttle makes a couple jumps back towards where it came from, and gets to work on the three tasks: mapping space, mapping time, and effecting repairs. In the meantime, the humans make sure that the quantum replicator is working. Omega has a simple cup of fruity yogurt, and Valencia tries some chicken fingers and fries. Then they replicate the second one again when Omega finds the first one smells too good to pass up. It’s not too terribly long before the computer is finished with the data Omega requested. They stare at it for a moment, in shock. “Computer, I trust you, but...”
This is one hundred percent accurate, Captain Raddle.
“When did I become a captain?”
Thirty-four minutes ago.
“Fair enough,” Omega decides, feeling no desire to argue the chain of command.
“This isn’t a field of space debris,” Valencia complains. “This is a tube! A chain!”
“The Extremus is flying right through it. What, is the ship exerting a gravitational force?”
“It shouldn’t be, and I think we would have known. But it can’t be that anyway. Look, that one got knocked a little away from the group, but it’s on its way back. They’re regathering into a...formation!”
“Like fighter jets?”
“Like fighter jets.”
“My God, it’s manmade.”
“We’ve been flying through a gauntlet this entire time, devised by an enemy we know nothing about.”
They look at each other, and simultaneously say, “the True Extremists.”
She shakes her head. “They are far more powerful than we thought. I don’t even know how you make a space debris gauntlet. To command that much persistent gravitational force with no obvious source, I...what the hell are we gonna do about this? Extremus cannot continue on its present course.”
“Major course corrections require a majority vote by the entire crew, and the passenger population. The special election would be run entirely by the civilian government, and right now, we can’t trust them to do the right thing. If we put that up for debate, we’ll lose, and probably lose any chance of putting it back on the table later.”
“What do you suggest we do? We can’t just sit here and not warn the ship. It hasn’t been working, we’ve been winning, but who knows, it could get worse down the line. They have to know how much greater a risk it is than we realized. If an intelligence made this, it can learn to change tactics.”
Omega checks his watch symbolically. “Barring a complete administrative takeover, Ovan Teleres will be out of office by 2294. Perhaps we jump to then, and warn them of the problem.”
Valencia shakes her head again, but this time in disagreement. We don’t know his replacement will be better. They could be just as bad, or even worse. Plus, Captain Yenant’s shift will be over, and we have no idea who will be replacing him either. That person could also be terrible. The First of Nine is the only person on that vessel we know we can trust. We have to risk going back now, and hoping he has a good plan.”
“Or we don’t go back at all.”
She squints. “What are you thinking?”
“If we can figure out how Oaksent is generating a massive enough gravitational field to attract that debris, along a continuous path, even after the Extremus passes through the area, without being detectable by standard instruments, we might be able to simply switch it off.”
“I doubt anything like that is simple.”
“Well, you know what I mean.”
She sighs. “A black hole is unstable, and not, like, long. They are invisible, though. Theoretically, you could tap into the gravitational pull of something like that, merge it with another point in spacetime, like famed spatial merger, Kayetan Glaston, and multiply it along the path.”
“That’s how you would do it?”
“If I were a psycho, yeah, probably.”
“So we just need to find the merge point,” Omega figures.
“Like I said, it wouldn’t be a point, it would be more like an edge.”
“So, even easier to find?”
“Maybe not. Maybe it can’t be disabled from here. It’s possible we would have to go to the source. I mean, I don’t know how we would possibly get there. It obviously can’t be as easy as flying into the debris, or the Extremus would have accidentally slipped over to the other side ages ago. It’s likely unidirectional.”
 “Which means that it’s sending us data, whether it wants to, or not. Let’s get closer, maybe land on something sufficiently large, and study it. If it takes us a hundred years, then so be it. We knew what we signed up for. Even if we end up having to fly to the singularity through realspace, then that is what we will do.”
Valencia nods. “That’s what we’ll do.”
The computer found them a candidate asteroid with plenty of hydrogen for perpetual fusion. They focused the teleporter field for direct shots, rearranging the rock as necessary to enclose their selected crater into a dome. They built a pressurized habitat with a breathable atmosphere, duplicating the carbon scrubbers to cover the area. Here they lived for more than two decades, propelling the entire asteroid as needed to study different parts of the anomaly, trying to figure out where exactly all this gravity was coming from. By the time they did, they had themselves a full-grown son.
When Omega Parker was first created in the lab, he wasn’t given a name, but a number. He chose to call himself Omega, because he felt he was entitled to a personal designation. His progenitor’s name was Saxon Parker, so Omega has always just used that as his own last name too. It’s never really felt like him, though. After he and Valencia fell in together—which, admittedly, likely had a lot to do with a lack of options—they both decided to change their names. They would become Valencia and Omega Strong, and their son would be Denver, after the town that Saxon grew up in.
Denver was always a bit of a problem child. They tried to give him everything he would need to become a well-adjusted adult, but virtual environments, and artificial friends, have just not been enough. They have decided that he doesn’t need to be part of the next mission, and there is only one place that can both understand him, and help him. Fortunately, they designed a way to get him there.
“Why can’t I see?” Denver asks.
“I don’t want you running home when something upsets you. This is going to be a good place, where you can learn to be a functioning member of society.”
“I am a functioning member of society,” he argues. “I’ve been cleaning sensor arrays since I was nine. I did my first spacewalk when I was eleven. I think I have this life thing figured out.”
“Life on the asteroid is different than life with other people. Your father and I have not been able to raise you properly. It’s time that changes. Think of it as a boarding school. You remember reading about those?”
Denver rolls his eyes. “Of course, mother. I’m not an idiot. I don’t need school. I’ll be smarter than all of those kids combined.”
“Don’t be so sure of that. There are billions of people on that planet. They each have their own story.”
“Great. So one of them will be able to break through your Nexus’ access restrictions, and allow me to come back whenever I want.”
She smiles. “I’ve rigged your phone so you can call. Time is synced between us, so if you call in fourteen hours, it will have been fourteen hours for us as well. If we decide you need to come home, we’ll get you home. But you don’t need the address.”
“How do you even have an address in the first place? When someone builds a new Nexus, how does it get its own address code? How does the network even know?”
“You have to build the machine to the proper specifications, and if you’ve not made any mistakes, a multiverse god called The Intentioner accepts you into the network, and assigns you an address. That’s why all Nexa look pretty much the same.”
“A god, really? I’m fifteen years old, you think I still believe in fairy tales?”
“Well, they’re real, and I had to reach out to them for one-way brute access to Dardius, so be grateful.”
“Cool, so actually all I have to do to come back is talk to this Intenioner guy, and ask him to brute force the other direction.”
“Their pronouns are they and them.”
“This is exactly why we’re sending you there.”
“And why will I be going back in time? Why can’t I just show up in 2309?”
Omega is finally back from his scouting mission in the future. “Because we don’t know what the planet looks like at this point. We know who is in control of the planet in the 23rd century, and we know that they’ll help you.”
Denver puts on that pouty face that usually gets him whatever he wants.
“This is happening, son,” Omega continues. “Now say goodbye to your mother, and get in the chamber.”
Still angry and feeling abandoned, Denver steps down into the machine. Up in the control room, Omega inputs the address for Dardius, since Valencia can’t bring herself to do it. With each button press, Denver realizes there may be a loophole to his predicament. There are four ways to engage the machine. You can select a destination from the computer, using whatever graphical interface you have access to. You can use the simple keypad, which is of a universal design. If you’re smart enough, you might be able to initiate a trip by essentially hot wiring it from inside the guts. This would allow you to go to absolutely any Nexus you want, even if access has been restricted. But that requires a genius level of intellect enjoyed by very few.
In any case, all methods are actually happening at the same time, including the fourth one. Eight of the sides inside the chamber pit are equipped with the sixteen unique address glyphs, which would allow someone to kick them for direct dialing. This will, in fact, override any other method, allowing the actual traveler to decide where they want to go, rather than whoever happens to be in the control room, or up in the secret engineering section. Denver doesn’t want to change to a different address, even if he were cognizant of a different destination. But what he realizes when he gets to Dardius is that the glyphs light up on the other side too, but in this case, they show the outgoing address, like caller ID. Knowing this, he should be able to return at will. Except he can’t, because his home isn’t there anymore.
His parents stare at the now empty chamber, saddened by their decision. “We have to go, Val,” Omega says. “He could try to come back at any moment.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?”
“We both saw it. He destroys the Extremus. We can’t let him set foot on that ship, at any point in the future, or the past.”
“This is our fault.”
“Yes, and that’s why we’re responsible for fixing it.”
“We’re not fixing it. We’re just...handing him off to someone else.”
“If we didn’t have a mission, we would be able to go with him. Maybe someday, we will. Or rather, we have. I choose to believe that. Now come on, we have to make our way to the source.”
Still sad, Valencia follows her baby daddy to their original time shuttle. They fly out of the debris field, and jump back to the past without watching their home, and the Nexus along with it, explode.

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