Saturday, March 26, 2022

Extremus: Year 37

Three and a half months later, and they still don’t have any answers. They can’t explain what they’re seeing in the mysterious box that the drone they sent out for resupply returned with. The person living inside of the box is too small to be seen with the naked eye. The glass the box itself is made of can be adjusted to magnify the image a little bit, and a microscope can make the image even larger, but it’s so far not enough to communicate. They can’t even make out the individual’s face, but she appears to be feminine, and she recognizes that giants are gawking at her. She mostly sits in a tiny chair, reading a tinier book, inside of a sort of living room that looks more like a movie set since there are two walls, and a floor, but no roof. She shows no signs of fear, insecurity, or general helplessness. The scientists placed in charge of figuring this out posit that she’s patiently waiting for them to do just that. One thing they’ve learned is that she refuses to leave the box. They drilled a little hole on the side, but she won’t crawl out of it for further testing. They don’t know why, so they’ve come up with a way to reach out to her.
“You wanna shrink somebody?” Kaiora questions.
“No, Captain,” Dr. Kreuleck says. He’s not in charge of the team, but the man who is has trouble communicating with anyone who doesn’t have at least three advanced degrees, so Daud usually finds himself as the interpreter between them. “The envoy will be piloting a miniature avatar. You’ll still be much larger than the specimen, but if you speak the same language, you ought to be small enough to carry on an intelligible conversation.”
“When you say you, you mean generic-you, right?”
“, we were thinking actually you, sir,” Daud clarifies.
“Why would I be the one to do it?”
“We assumed you would want to make first contact.”
Kaiora hadn’t considered it. It sounds right, though, doesn’t it? She’s responsible for the crew and passengers, and she represents them in a way that no one else does, even compared to First Chair. Surely the technology is safe. Surrogate piloting is old technology that has only improved over time. There should be no danger to this. “That’s not what an envoy is,” she can’t help but point out. “You can’t be an envoy for yourself.”
“You mean yourself,” Daud jokes.
The Captain always tries to maintain a distance from everyone, for obvious professional reasons. She would be lying to herself, however, if she claimed to not find Daud’s company to be pleasant and enjoyable, but of course, no matter what she feels, she has to lie to everyone else. “Right.” She sighs, and takes another look at the nano-human, who’s presently sleeping in her little bed. “Tell me what to do. If it’s ready, I’ll make contact when she wakes up.”
Daud goes over the specifications of the interface pod. Everything is pretty standard. They will lie her back in the chair, hook her brain up to the machine, and then link her neural signals to the nanobot. It may never have been done at this scale before, but billions have experienced it in the history of mankind, so Kaiora isn’t worried. A few hours later, the specimen gets out of bed, cleans herself up, and then goes back to her books. That’s when they initialize the program.
Kaiora finds herself standing at the entrance to the box. The hole they drilled is as big as a building from her perspective. She has to climb up the side just to get to it, but it’s not that hard, because the glass is pretty rough, with lots of handholds. It’s not like she can get tired of it either, because she’s not really there. The bot is doing all the work, she’s just controlling it. After a little while, she reaches the edge, and walks over the threshold. Before she can climb down on the inside, everything changes. She can no longer see the box, or the movie set that the specimen lives in. She just sort of sees shapes and colors. Nothing looks distinct. She can’t orient herself. It’s all just a meaningless blur.
Kaiora forces herself back to her real body, and works hard to catch her breath. The experience was more traumatic than she even realized while it was happening. It was surreal, but now she’s shaken, and doesn’t want to go back. What the hell was that? “What the hell was that?”
“Tell us what happened,” Daud prompts.
She describes the images to the best of her ability, and slows down when the scientists seem to be having some kind of simultaneous revelation. “What? Tell me.”
“It was just a theory, and we tried to test for it, but we found it impossible to penetrate the box,” Daud doesn’t explain.
“You drilled a hole in it,” she points out.
“I mean, we can’t get our sensors in. We can’t take any readings. It seems that only visible light crosses the barrier.”
Barrier?” Kaiora echoes. That word is really only used for one thing in regards to temporal manipulation. “You mean dimensional barrier.”
“Yes. She’s not actually tiny, she’s just in another dimension, which is being generated and sustained by a powersource somewhere inside the box. The glass serves as the boundary, and when you crossed it, you became part of it. You were in the form of a nanobot, so in the other dimension, you’re still in a nanobot, so from the perspective of everything else in there, that is how you appear...or rather don’t appear, because you were so small. At that point, to us, you were smaller than an atom.”
Kaiora nods once, and points to the box. “So in reality, she’s regular size; it’s just a different reality?”
“We believe so.”
“So if we teleported someone into the box, they would become her size.”
“Why didn’t we do that in the first place?”
“If we were wrong, it could have destroyed the box, and the specimen. It would be like if we teleported a planet inside the Extremus.”
“Fair enough. But can’t you teleport her to this dimension?” Kaiora suggests.
Daud looks at the rest of the team. “We didn’t...think of that.”
Kaiora continues, “if we transport her from inside that box to our dimension, she should show up as a normal-sized person from our perspective. And if she doesn’t, she’s still safe, because we’ll know exactly where she is.”
Daud scratches the back of his head, embarrassed. “We’ll build the environment, and the laser teleporter. We have to be more precise than most teleportation jumps require. It should take us a few hours to be safe.”
“I’ll come back in a few hours.”
She does come back in a few hours, and the team is ready for the procedure. Kaiora takes one more look in the box. The specimen has straightened up her living environment. She’s made her bed, and shelved most of the books. She’s holding a large stack of some of them, though; presumably the ones she hasn’t read yet. She looks ready. She knows they’ve finally solved the problem. “Push it,” the Captain orders.
“We thought you might want to.” Daud lifts the single-button remote, and presents it to her with both hands.
Without thinking about it too hard, Kaiora unceremoniously presses the button, and activates the laser teleporter. A woman appears in the egress chamber, still holding her books. The bookcase behind her managed to come through too. The woman looks at it over her shoulder. “Oh, good. I was only able to hold about half of the ones I wanted.”
Kaiora recognizes her immediately, now that she can actually see her face. “Lieutenant Suárez, welcome back the Extremus. I’m Captain Kaiora Leithe, Third of Ten.”
One of the other scientists steps over, and carefully removes the books from Rita’s arms. “It’s nice to finally be back. We have a lot to discuss, but before I say anything, could someone please escort me to the hock. I need to talk to Halan first.”
Kaiora looks over at Daud. She knows that Halan is locked up, which begs the question how she would know such a thing after having been gone for nearly 34 years. “I suppose...that’s...a fair request. You’ll need a medical examination first, though.”
“I suppose that’s a fair request,” Rita echoes.
They’re careful not to let anyone else know that Rita is back. The Supply Recovery team that discovered the box in the first place agreed to secrecy, and still won’t be told this much anyway. Kaiora escorts Rita to Dr. Holmes’ office, and once the exam is over, to the hock, which adds yet another person to know the secret in Caldr Giordana. Hopefully that’s the last one besides Halan. Kaiora still doesn’t know what they’re going to do with her, and honestly, a former captain’s opinion will be invaluable in that regard.
After the pleasantries, Rita sits in the guest chair, nervously scratching her upper teeth against her index finger, but fortunately not biting down.
“Take your time,” Halan assures her.
“You’re safe,” Kaiora adds.
“Old Man knew what was going to happen. He was wearing a sort of survival pack. When Debra—that was Airlock Karen’s real name; I don’t know if anyone here ever knew that. Anyway, when she and I landed on the planet, there was no air. We were just in the vacuum of space, dying. I woke up however long later in a tent barely sufficient for two people. All three of us were in there together. Apparently, he had shot us with a teleporter gun, since we were a few meters away from him. Then he wrapped us all in the self-assembling tent. The rest of the survival supplies were in his bag. He called it the Heskit; Harsh Environment Survival Kit. It was equipped with carbon scrubbers, but since they take time to get going, he also had an oxygen tank that was good enough to last us six or seven hours. We didn’t have to share a mask. He just opened the valve, and filled the tent. I thought we were gonna die, but he just kept walking us up the steps. He had enough meal bars to last him a month alone, but we rationed them together, and still made it through that month.
“While we were waiting for the hydroponics to grow, a meat bioreactor printed meat patties for us. They weren’t particularly flavorful, and they took a shockingly long time, but they did the job. Everything was powered by small scale fusion reactors. He programmed and released nanites to build us a larger structure to live in using materials found on the planet. When we finally teleported there, we found that we were not alone. He was there, and he was a lot better off than we were. He was already wearing a vacuum suit, and brought with him far better supplies. To him it wasn’t an emergency, but a planned move. He wanted to live there. That was his temporary home, before...”
“Before he built a time machine to take over the galaxy before the Earthan humans could,” Halan tries to finish for her.
“Oaksent didn’t build shit. He forced Old Man to do everything. He also had a gun; not a teleporter gun, but a real one with bullets. A schism formed between us. It quickly became clear that Debra was on his side, and Old Man and I were on the other. I never much liked Elder, but he was a lot better than that megalomaniac. In response to our impudence, Oaksent modified the orders so that the time machine would only fit two people. The two of them then went off on their merry mission in the past, leaving us only with that second structure, and a microreactor to power it. He took everything else, including the hydroponics, not because he needed it, but because he didn’t want us to have it. Now I thought we really were going to die, but then we saw it. A vehicle was driving over the regolith, heading our way. Long story short, they were descended from the embryos or whatever that Oaksent stole from the Bridger Section. This small faction had broken off from the rest of the empire. They didn’t have any strong feelings about us, or Extremus, but they figured they might as well execute a mission to rescue us, just to make sure we were all living in the same timeline.
“They agreed to let us join their group, and we did so, because we didn’t want them to kill us, or just let us die. I mean, you fall in with whoever you can to survive, right? I didn’t love the life, because it was needlessly difficult. The empire is clearly technologically advanced, but this faction subsisted on outdated and worn out technology, I guess as a means of expressing some kind of rebellious sentiment. Stuff constantly broke down, and we were always in danger of dying. I made it work, but Old Man couldn’t. He wanted to get back to the ship, so he built another time machine in secret. He tried to get me to go with him, but I refused. It was too risky. I don’t wanna mess with time. So I stayed, and that’s when my story begins...”

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