Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Edge: Enticement (Part IV)

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Leona and Aldona were talking about nothing and everything in Leona’s bed last light, and ended up falling asleep next to each other. They still didn’t know how they were going to get out of this star system, and back to where they wanted to be. Leona needed to return to her life, of course, and Aldona had more work to do for the Third Rail and Fourth Quadrant Earths. Would anyone let them actually go do those things, though? There was a knock on the door, but the person on the other side of it didn’t bother waiting for someone to answer. Ishida Caldwell walked in. “Hey,” she said in a very soft voice, like a mother to a child with the cold.
“We’re not going to be at the meeting.”
“Don’t ask us why, because you’re not going to like the answer,” Aldona added.
“I know why you’re not going to be there,” Ishida replied, “because you don’t wanna. If you don’t want to help, there’s no reason for you to be on this space station.”
“I thought that this was the only place that could protect us from the Reconvergence,” Aldona recalled.
Ishida shook her head. “There are a few others; namely Dardius, and Durus.”
“I don’t think they call it Durus anymore,” Leona divulged.
“Does that mean we can leave?” Aldona asked.
“Can anyone give us a ride?” Leona asked.
“Let me show you something first. Get dressed.” Ishida left and closed the door behind her, but it felt like she was just waiting for them out in the hall.
They were both already wearing clothes, but from yesterday, so Leona let Aldona borrow an outfit. They scarfed down a meal bar each, cleaned their teeth with a couple of mouthbombs, and left too.
Ishida took them by the hands, and teleported away. They were now in Team Keshida’s new masterpiece ship, the Jameela Jamil, which wasn’t super new anymore. It was the single most advanced vessel in the galaxy, besides maybe the Matrioshka Body, which let’s just say, didn’t really count. Aldona was immediately smitten with its sleek curves, its absolutely cleanliness, and its perfect lighting balance. She had obviously never seen it before, even in the future, her past.
“Yeah, this is really nice,” Leona determined.
“This isn’t what I wanted to show you,” Ishida clarified. She started leading them down the corridor. “As you know, the JJ exemplifies the four pillars of spaceflight. Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy...” She paused while she slowly opened the last door, “and Modularization.”
They were in a shuttle bay, except fit for much larger vessels. Three were docked here at the moment, but there were spots for many more. “This is the Cleopatra. Next to it is the Ava, and that one down the Phoenix.”
Aldona smiled. “I’m sensing a pattern.”
“Where’s the Tahani?”
“It’s out with its new crew. Or should I say, they are out with their new crews,” Ishida began cryptically. “Quantum duplication is difficult to pull off. It takes a lot of energy, and what we’ve found is that the larger the object—or rather, the more massive—the likelier the duplicate is to come with issues. So we decided that the Reconvergence is an opportunity. We sent the vessels away from Altair in order to give them a fifty-fifty shot of sticking around. One duplicate will go to the Sixth Key, and the other version will stay here. The Sixth Key crews will go on missions in that universe, away from the guidance of the mothership. We’ll reconvene with the copies that stayed in this universe at a later date.”
“Interesting. But what does that have to do with us?” Leona asked.
“We kept these three here for their own reasons,” Ishida said. “The Phoenix is what concerns you, Mrs. Matic. Atterberry pods, Ubiña pockets, state-of-the-art molecular synthesizers, internal teleportation, lander beaming technology, more sensors than you could ever imagine, protective teleportation hull field, advanced holographic illusioning, and much more. Oh, and a true faster-than-light drive. Plus, the shuttle bay has enough room for two standard shuttles, and one...Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sized ship of your choosing. All this could be yours for the low, low price of...”
Leona closed her eyes, finally understanding what was happening here. “Attending the meeting,” she finished. “This is a bribe.”
“This is an ultimatum,” Ishida contended. “Come to the meeting, do your job, get the ship. It’s simple. We’re not asking you to make any particular decision at the meeting; only to contribute. Your attendance is mandatory, as is yours, Aldona.”
“If it’s mandatory, you wouldn’t need a bribe,” Aldona reasoned. “You could just force us to be there.”
“We can do that too, but we wanted to incentivize you instead.”
“It looks and sounds nice,” Leona started, “but the AOC is safe and sound where we parked it in the Fifth Division. We’ll get it back.”
“That’s cool, but you need something more,” Ishida said. “The universe is changing. The AOC was an amazing piece of technology two hundred years ago, but this is the 25th century, and regardless of how the meeting ends up, you’ll need to be in a position of power for anyone to take you seriously. But like I said, your original vessel has a place, which is why you’re getting that one, and Aldona is getting the Ava.”
“That one?” Aldona asked, pointing. “What am I expected to do with it?”
“Go back home. Stop the war. It’s got its own special toys. What it doesn’t have is what the Phoenix does, which is why we chose that particular name for it.”
“What, does it turn into a bird?” Leona questioned.
“It can’t be destroyed,” Ishida started to explain. She reached into her back pocket, and pulled out something Leona had seen before, but it was not in great shape. “This is the little gadget that Ramses used to generate recovery states of the AOC. I borrowed it from a museum in the future. Don’t worry, it’s completely inoperable, but it’s a genius idea, and we drew from it. You see, the Reconvergence has already happened, and the Phoenix was in the center of it. It was secretly buried underneath Stonehenge in the main sequence when your husband copied the entire reality. It was imbued with the power to recover from anything, and rise from the ashes to fly again. It can survive long as the blackbox in the center of it remains undamaged. Obviously that’s why it is in the center. I’ll show you how to work it. I’ll show you everything if you agree to our terms.”
“I’m curious,” Aldona began while Leona was considering the offer, and unable to speak herself. “What’s the special purpose of the Cleopatra?”
“Oh, that’s my personal ship, which is why it’s still here. Kestral and I don’t want ourselves to be duplicated, but she did want her personal ship, the Eris, to be copied, so it’s off on its own in the middle of interstellar space. She didn’t explain why.”
“This is a nice offer,” Leona said, “but what I’m curious about is if you think I won’t be able to refuse it.”
“This isn’t a trick, Leona. This is our last attempt to persuade you. I’ve just received word that Ramses is fine. He survived what happened to him when he stepped through the untailored portal. You’ll see him again. So there is no reason for you to be mad at us anymore. All you have to decide is if you’re over your exhaustion, or if you’re satisfied flying the AOC off to a remote star system somewhere to live our your days with no more adventures or intrigue. What would the real AOC do?”
She was right. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a relentless fighter. Leona would feel bad about abandoning the ship they had used for so long, if only because of its namesake, so keeping it somewhere on the Phoenix would be a decent compromise. As far as spaceship names go, it’s not original, but surely there’s room for one more. It’s a great name, and if what Ishida says is true, it’s really the only one that fits. She’s not excited for what she has to do to get it, but she wants this ship. She really does.
“Well?” Ishida asked. “How about it?”
Aldona frowned at Leona. “I’m taking the deal. I have to.”
“I understand,” Leona replied. “I’m taking it too. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
Ishida grimaced. “That’s the thing. Errr, that’s the other thing. The meeting starts today.” She glanced at her watch. “It starts in half an hour.”
“Why did it change?”
“If you had stayed through the whole introduction presentation, you would know why.” That was uncharacteristically sassy of Ishida.
“Well...” Leona was going to clap back, but decided against it. “Can you teleport us back to my room, so we can get ready?”
“Everything you need is in your new ships,” Ishida suggested.
“Better not,” Leona decided. “I would just get distracted in there.”
“Same here,” Aldona agreed.
Ishida obliged them, but took Aldona to her own room, so they didn’t have to share a space. It was two minutes to the starting time, and Leona still hadn’t left yet. She bolted out the door, and prepared to run all the way when she noticed Pribadium Delgado leaning coolly against the wall. “I thought you might be running late.”
“Pribadium, I—”
“Don’t apologize, or I’ll feel like I have to too. Let’s just move on.”
“Okay.” Leona nodded, and stuck her tail between her legs. She took Pribadium’s hand when it was offered, and they jumped back to Lylla Hall. A couple of ushers opened the double doors for them, as well as Aldona and Ishida, who had arrived at about the same time. Everyone looked back at Leona again, but her tail couldn’t get more tucked than it already was. “Hi, sorry. I’m feeling much better now.”
They climbed on stage with the others, and the meeting began.

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