Saturday, March 9, 2024

Fluence: Aura (Part II)

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Briar was gone. Once Goswin felt like he knew enough about the Parallel justice system to trust that it was fair and, well...just, he returned to the X González to explain things to the suspect. Briar was not in his cabin, nor did it look like anyone had ever stayed there. The bedsheets were perfectly aligned, and the surfaces were dusty from disuse. Goswin stepped back into the hallway to see if he was just turned around, but this had to be the right cabin. Still, he checked all of the others, and Briar wasn’t anywhere else either. It wasn’t a huge ship. Eight Point Seven’s sensors were damaged, in addition to her memory, so she was unable to find his location. The researchers on this asteroid had their own security system, which could not find him either, nor detect that anyone besides Goswin and Weaver had ever stepped out of the González. It was a mystery, the answer to which almost certainly had something to do with time travel.
“There’s a database,” Pontus began to explain. “It stores the records of every single person in every reality, throughout all of time, in every timeline. It could trace Briar’s steps as long as he showed up somewhere that records such data. While it does have an unspeakable amount of data, it’s not magic. If someone went off somewhere alone, they could hide from it, just like you could slink through the blindspots of a security camera.”
“Might as well try it,” Goswin decided.
“It’s not that easy,” Pontus replied. “It’s not here. It’s hard to reach, and reportedly harder to access. Almost no one in the universe is granted permission, and even when they are, their activity is heavily monitored to prevent abuse. The Tanadama, which are sort of like our god-leaders, would be prone to letting someone like you use it, but you would still have to go there first, and there is no guarantee.”
“Can we them?” Goswin asked. “I don’t need to look at this database myself. He’s a dangerous and unstable man. He was an adult before he met anyone besides his mother, and he found himself trusting the wrong person. I don’t know what he’s gonna do...and if he’s dead, I need to know that too.”
Pontus shook his head. “We can’t just call. Part of the point is making the journey to Sriav.” He looked towards the back entrance of the hollowed-out asteroid. “It’s out there, in the void, away from all others, in this tiny pocket of civilization. I couldn’t even give you the exact coordinates. I think you’re expected to intuit your vector somehow. They call it our sister outpost, but we’ve never interacted with them, and I’ve never given it much thought.”
“Well, this has to happen. Whatever you need from us, it will have to wait. Briar de Vries is our priority.” He turned away as he tapped on his comms disc to make it clear that he was starting a separate conversation. “Eight Point Seven, Weaver, we’re going to a world called Sriav.”

When he turned back to ask for permission to leave the asteroid, Pontus was gone. Beside him were Weaver and Eight Point Seven in her humanoid form. “How did you do that? Did you have that body ready and waiting?”
She was just as surprised as he was. She patted herself. “Are we all corporeal?”
“No way to test that,” Weaver acknowledged. “We could all be in a simulation.”
“Not a simulation,” came a voice behind them. “It’s Sriav.”
They turned to see a grand entrance to an expansive room. It was so wide and deep that they couldn’t see how big the room was. The walls and ceiling were ornately decorated, but it appeared to be completely unfurnished, like a shell waiting to be filled and used. “I’m sorry, I got the impression that this planet was located in the intergalactic void.”
“It is,” the woman confirmed. “It’s roughly a million light years from the edge of the Milky Way galaxy.”
“We were just on an asteroid in the Achernar system,” Weaver said.
“Well,” the woman began, “if you were going to be in one place one second, and another the next, it would be Po.”
“That’s the primary planet orbiting Alpha Eridani. Hi. I’m Madam Sriav. You came here for a reason, I presume?”
“Captain?” Eight Point Seven urged.
“We’re looking for a man by the name of Briar de Vries,” Goswin started to explain. “He disappeared from our ship. We don’t know exactly when, or how, and we certainly don’t know where we went. Our arrival here is the second time today we’ve jumped through spacetime inexplicably quick. I was told that you have a database?”
Madam Sriav smiled. “This world is quite remote, as I’ve said. We have true faster-than-light travel, of course, but you can’t use it to get here. If you try, you’ll slow down for no apparent reason. It’s a security feature. No, if you wanna come here, you have to do it the old fashioned way, with a simple reframe engine. That could take you upwards of 1400 years. Most barely try, and most of the rest quit. The few who have dedicated their lives to such a pursuit have ended up staying here. There is no better place to live, I believe.”
“Okay, but the database?” Goswin pressed.
She smiled again. “A mechanical rabbit lure, just to give people a reason to head in this direction.”
“So it doesn’t exist,” Weaver surmised.
“A computer that tracks everyone in every reality? What horrors could that lead to? I wouldn’t want to live in a universe that had something like that.”
Weaver faced Goswin. “There must be some reason we’re here. There’s a reason we were thrown to Achernar, and now this place. I think you’re doing it.”
Goswin shook his head with the confidence of a math professor. “No, I’m not.”
“There are only three reasons to slip timespace the way we’ve been doing it; incidentally, by one’s own hand...or by someone else’s,” Weaver went over.
“What is here?” Goswin asked Madam Sriav. “What is the purpose of this world?”
“If you have to ask, you don’t belong,” she answered.
“It would help us understand how we ended up here,” Eight Point Seven reasoned. “Perhaps Briar is already here.”
Madam Sriav sighed. “It would not be my place to say, but...”
“But what?” Goswin waved his loose hand in circles. “Go on.”
“You could always look for a tracker...assuming you can make it back to civilization.” Madam Sriav didn’t think that would ever happen. “There are people who specialize in it. Some have learned and trained, others are born with the gift. Some were imbued with power by the Tanadama themselves.”
“A tracker?” Goswin questioned. “Is there a real database of such people, like”
“The word you’re looking for is a phonebook,” Weaver helped. “Madam, I know you don’t use money for transactions, but if these people help people like businesses, there must be some central location to find them.”
Madam Sriav shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I was born on this world. I don’t have much of a practical understanding of the way they do things out there.”

Now Goswin sighed as he looked up at the high ceiling. “Well, do you have any ships? We forgot to bring ours.” Something weird happened. Did the ceiling change? Yeah, the ceiling appeared to change. It was sort of gradual, but also abrupt? He kept staring at it, and trying different angles. It looked more like a sky at dawn now.
“Captain. It happened again,” Eight Point Seven explained.
Goswin nodded, still checking different angles of the sky-ceiling. “Yeah, I know. I’m just afraid to look. Everytime I wanna go somewhere, we go.”
“It’s worse than that this time,” Weaver said.
Goswin dropped his chin. Madam Sriav was still here with them, and they were no longer in the frighteningly large room. They were outside, in the center of some kind of meadow nearish the top of a mountain. “I do apologize for...whatever is going on. With me, or with us. I just don’t know.”
“You need to get me back,” Madam Sriav insisted. “So please, figure it out.” She seemed like the kind of person who was not used to getting upset, and was desperately trying to keep her emotions in check, even though she had ever reason to be cross.
“Hey! Who are you?” A man was walking towards them from the slope.
“We are the crew of the X González,” Goswin replied, hoping that Madam Sriav would rather be lumped in with them than stand out in the presence of yet another stranger. “Can you tell us where we are?”
“You’re on Lorania, on the side of Mount Aura.”
“Lorania?” Eight Point Seven echoed, “as in, the island on Dardius?”
“That’s right,” the man said.
“Dardius only exists in the main sequence,” Madam Sriav revealed. “You brought us across realities. How are you doing this?”
“I still don’t know, but I’m worried that he’s accidentally joined us, and if I start thinking about going somewhere else, I’ll only make matters worse.”
“No,” Madam Sriav began to calculate. “Think about Sriav, and that’s where we’ll go. I don’t really care where anyone else goes. I welcomed you to my planet, because that is my job, and I can’t do it if I’m here, so I’m done humoring you.”
Wow, this situation escalated quickly. “Are you a tracker?” Goswin asked the new guy. “If you’re a tracker, that’s why I’m here.”
“No. I’m Harrison. Tracker Four is up there.”
“Great. Maybe they can help everyone get home,” Goswin hoped.
“She’s with another client,” Harrison said, stopping them from stepping forward with an imposing stance.
“You can come back for her later,” Sriav said to Goswin. “You take me back first.”
“I can’t control it,” Goswin argued. “I’m not even sure I am doing it. I don’t feel anything when it happens. Do either of you feel anything?”
Weaver and Eight Point Seven shook their heads.
“Yeah,” Goswin went on, “so let’s say it’s me. What if I accidentally send us to the inside of a volcano, or hell, just the vacuum of outer space?”
“Don’t even suggest things like that!” Sriav was raising her voice now. “Don’t put those thoughts in your own head!”
Goswin made prayer hands, with his index fingers wrapped around his nose, his middle fingers pressed up against his forehead, and his thumbs pushing up the corners of his lips. This is what he did when he was frustrated, and trying to solve a problem. “Harrison, is this region dangerous in any way.”
Harrison didn’t expect the question. “Uh, there’s a natural merge point a few kilometers that way, which will take you to prehistoric times. As long as you stay away from that, you should be good.”
“I’m not gonna try to do anything yet. Madam Sriav, I know that your life and your job are important to you, but you have a few hours to just wait, so I can get this right. I’m going to go meditate. When I get back, if you happen to have photos of where you live, there’s a chance that helps. I really couldn’t say for sure. I’m sorry if I did this to you, but this is uncharted territory, so your patience would be greatly appreciated.”
Still annoyed, Madam Sriav raised her eyebrows, and gestured for him to get on with it. Then she turned around, and started kicking at some nearby flowers.
Goswin wasn’t super into meditation, but he had done it a few times, and it was a great excuse to get away from everyone. If he really was responsible for all of this, standing around and being berated about it wasn’t going to help. He found a nice, soft patch of grass a couple hundred meters away from them. He sat down cross-legged, and closed his eyes, hoping to free his mind from all distractions. The birds were starting to chirp, but they were very consistent and melodic, so it actually helped. There was a slight breeze that cooled his face just enough to be comfortable in this tropical weather. He breathed in deeply, held it in for a few seconds, and exhaled through his mouth. This wasn’t him. It couldn’t be him. He didn’t have powers, or a pattern. He was just a normal guy who met a bunch of time travelers one day. That was why he jumped at the chance to board the X González. He wanted to know more, to meet other people. He wanted to have an adventure. He didn’t want to ruin people’s lives.
He was sitting there for several minutes when it began to rain. It was only a sprinkle at first, but then the drops began to fall harder. It didn’t stop him, though. He stayed where he was, trying to find his center. This was just another distraction that he had to let go of and ignore. Before too long, though, the rain was pouring. The grass under him was pushed away to be replaced by mud. He didn’t know how long he could stand it. It wasn’t the most discomfort he had ever experienced, but he certainly didn’t want it to worsen.
“Ēalā! Eart þu hāl!” an unfamiliar voice shouted to him.
He felt like he had no choice but to open his eyes. This was definitely not Lorania anymore. “What? Sorry, I slipped, but I’m okay.” He started to stand up. “Where am I?”
She seemed quite confused at his words. “It’s England.”
“Forgive me, but...what year?”
“Oh. You must have come through the cave.”
“What cave?”
“On Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. It’s the year 1133, on Earth. My name is Irene. Irene de Vries.”

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