Saturday, May 11, 2024

Orthogradient: Azura and the Transit Army (Part I)

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Azura of Ansutah ran towards the crowd that was forming to overwhelm her ward, Treasure, Treasure’s bodyguard, Quino, and the native historian whose name she couldn’t recall at the moment. Before she could get close enough to help, Treasure screamed, and disappeared. She was a natural-born bulk traveler, who could travel to any nearby parallel universe, and as the only one here who was able to power the Transit, her disappearance came as a great loss. Azura looked around in case Treasure came back. Bulk travel inherently meant time travel, and there was no reason why she couldn’t spend countless years elsewhere, and still return to this very moment. But she didn’t, and she might never. Azura and her new makeshift crew might have to get out of this predicament on their own. Before the bewildered mob found her too, she ran off, and ran back to her spacetrain.
The man who was quickly becoming her second in command greeted her at the entrance. “Where are they?” Kaolin questioned.
“They’re gone. She screamed,” Azura answered.
“We thought we heard that.”
“Yeah.” She walked past him, and headed down the car.
“Well, is she coming back?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” she answered.
“How the hell are we gonna get out of here?”
They had power, they just had no way to escape this brane, and travel to another. This thing was built with the ability to process the bulk energy required to perform the operation, but it was intentionally stripped of some vital components, by someone who didn’t want the machine to fall into the wrong hands. It was not yet clear whether theirs were the right hands, but they were the only ones here at the moment. Azura reached for the nearest intercom. “Harbinger crew of the Transit, and founding members of the Transit Army, we are trapped in this brane. Our power source was forced to flee a potentially deadly situation without us. We have to move on under the assumption that she will never return. Her destiny is taking her on a different vector. But all is not lost. The engineers have been working on a contingency. They’ll need a little time to complete diagnostics, I believe, but we will get out of here...eventually. For now, please pilot us off of this planet. I at least want to get away from the natives. Once we’re in space, I’ll lead an official briefing for details. Thank you.” She hung up.
“What’s the contingency?” Kaolin asked.
Azura took a breath. “Time,” was all she said.
As explained, the Transit wasn’t designed to need Treasure Hawthorne in order to work. But without all those missing parts, it was not capable of accumulating enough energy to make even one trip in any reasonable amount of time. Fortunately, time was relative, and they had untold amounts of it, as long as they took precautions. The crew was placed in stasis while the ship wandered through space. Bulk energy was constantly popping into existence out of nowhere. This was, in fact, what explained the persistent expansion of the universe. With the right equipment, the energy released during these infinitesimally small events could be harnessed and stored.
After thousands of years of waiting, which only felt like seconds to everyone who was asleep, they finally had enough to make one jump. They had to make it count. Unfortunately, they had already exhausted their two best prospects for some real sustainable power. She was going to have to resort to the third. She got back on the horn to make another announcement. Most of the crew was in the same car as her already. “As you’ve already learned, I am a hybrid, made of human DNA, as well as Maramon. It explains why my skin is so pale, but real Maramon aren’t just pale, they’re white. They’re very white. The majority of my traits from that side of the experiment are internal, such as my physical resilience, and virtual immortality. The only Maramon I’ve personally met already knew what I was, for they were part of the program that genetically engineered me and my brothers and sisters. So I’m not sure whether a regular Maramon would recognize what I am, nor what that would mean for their impression of me. They may treat me as one of their own, or an abomination, or anything in between.
“My creators provided me with certain data regarding my world’s history, as well as their adventures throughout the bulkverse, but I don’t have the coordinates for every single brane they’ve ever recorded. I really only have one left, and it’s populated by Maramon. Their mission was to log new worlds, and move on, so the best one could be chosen for future settlement, but they decided to just take it for themselves. This is a last ditch resort. Our one fusion reactor that we stole has helped, but it is not enough. The time we spent on stasis will help us at least escape this universe, but we won’t be able to go anywhere else. Providence might not help us, and they may take the Transit for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s our only option. Anyone who wants to take their chances where we already are may leave in one of the pump shuttles that we discovered. For those of you who don’t know, they run on bulk energy too. It’s not enough to pierce the membrane, but it can jump to just about anywhere in the universe near-instantaneously. We’ll be crossing over to Providenciaverse soon, so if you’re leaving, let me know now.”
No one left, so Azura ordered that they use the last of their main power reserves to cycle up to lightspeed and pierce the membrane. The way the Transit was designed, it should be able to refuel while in the outer bulk by absorbing bulk energy through specialized ramscoops. Unfortunately, most of these were removed by the man who originally stole the machine. They either needed to be replaced eventually, or they would keep having to find other sources of power from the likes of the people they were on the way to see now. The journey this time took two weeks to reach their destination. To avoid being detected—at least right away—they entered the brane far from where Azura predicted the Maramon would have settled the solar system. She planned on going the rest of the way on one of the pump shuttles. These were large enough for a passenger load of around 24 people, but that number would shrink with gear, and other equipment, depending on the mission. The interior could be reconfigured as needed. She was intending to go on the away mission herself, but that was not possible. They found themselves coming through right next to a local ship. It was only about 40,000 kilometers away; more than close enough to be picked up on sensors.
They reached out immediately. “Unidentified operator of the Transit, this is the Providence Mining Explorer Denojuge, please respond.
Azura cleared her throat. “PME Denojuge, this is Azura of the First Transit Army. We’ve come seeking power sources. Our siphon array was removed, so we require alternatives. Anything you have would be quite helpful. We’re not here to cause trouble. I was genetically engineered and raised by a secret sect of Maramon who were originally formed to protect your location from the general population, and the government. Whether you help us or not, we will not betray that directive.”
Relax, half-breed, we’re not worried about being discovered anymore.” Half-breed. They knew who she was. “Prepare to be boarded peaceably.
“Do we do that?” Kaolin questioned. “Do we accept them?”
“We’re stuck here,” Azura began. “Waiting in stasis for thousands of years isn’t going to work this time. They know how to find us, and they will find us eventually if we try to run. Yes, we do this peaceably, like she said.”
They synced flight paths, then the Denojuge connected to the docking car. It was no surprise that they used compatible technologies, since the Providentials originally came here through the Crossover, which was designed by the same team as the Transit. Captain Ouheliydi led a boarding party in, and down the cars to meet Azura and her people halfway. She nodded at them respectfully. “We hear great things of the Transit Army. I must say, there are fewer of you than we imagined.”
“This marks the beginning of it,” Azura explained. “We’ve not yet recruited.”
“We guessed as much,” Ouheliydi said. “Obviously, you find some way to repair this thing, or you would not become multiversal legends in your future.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Azura agreed.
Ouheliydi sized up the first members of the army. “Verteans. The records do not explicitly state that they were the first, but the implication is that they were from the Biverse. I suppose it’s half true. Anyway, we have what you need.” She snapped her fingers at a masked soldier behind her. He handed Azura a metallic cylinder.
It proved to be heavier than Azura expected. She was stronger than the average human, but since her outside had to appear fully human in order to blend in, she couldn’t be as strong as a full Maramon. She had not seen anyone on that side of her ancestry in a long time, and forgot how much stronger they were.
“Apologies,” Ouheliydi said. “We forget how much weaker you are.”
“I understand,” Azura said as Kaolin was helping her stand up straight. She was capable of holding it on her own, but she had him open it for her. Inside was one of the longest coils in the multiverse. It had to be in order to taper down from a millimeter to an angstrom. “An atomic lance.”
Ouheliydi smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“We appreciate the sentiment,” Azura replied, “however most of our lances are functioning within normal parameters. It’s our aether siphon array that is missing.”
“Yes, well,” Ouheliydi began, “my people are strong, but not that strong. We have that for you as well, but automators will have to affix it to the front for us. It’s being couriered from the inner system as we speak.”
Azura narrowed her eyes, and looked down at the lance coil. “How much is this going to cost us?”
Ouheliydi smiled again. “Three cars.”
“We can’t remove three cars from the Transit,” Azura contended. “We need them. As you know, this machine is paramount in the war against the Ochivari.”
“You misunderstand,” Ouheliydi said. “We’re not asking for you to remove them. We’re asking for you to integrate a team of elites into the three cars. We’re asking to join the war as your first recruits.”
Azura was surprised by this. Obviously the whole point was to recruit for the impending war, but she had spent all this time just trying to get the Transit to work in the first place that she hadn’t been able to devote any bandwidth to that aspect. Who would she ask to join, how would she know who might agree to it, and how was she going to find them? She was able to travel to the last few universes because she had specifically memorized their locations. She wasn’t even supposed to do this, but every day while growing up, once she was finished with her studies, she would take it upon herself to conduct some unauthorized independent research. She could also get to the other universes that her brothers and sisters were dispatched to, but only one other beyond that. Probably her first stop once this machine was fully operational would be to Treasure’s universe, where a woman lived who could help them. She was not planning to recruit anyone until then. But if this was the price, could she say no? “I don’t know about this. Yes, I’ll need an army, but... Hold on, I need to ask, do you know who Thack Natalie Collins is?”
“No,” Ouheliydi answered.
“She’s a psychic who can witness events throughout the bulk. She could be listening to this conversation right now. If I’m going to do this; if I’m going to build this army, I need to be in her good graces, and she may have her own recruitment plans, which may or may not include you. I honestly don’t know, but I don’t want to upset her before I even meet her. You understand.”
Ouheliydi nodded. “No recruitment, no aether siphons. That’s the deal. This is not a negotiation. Why do you think we have this technology? We chose to stay in this universe, and let our brethren take the Crossover back on mission. We’ve never seen the Transit before. We don’t use bulk energy to power our ships. So why did we build them? For you. We didn’t know that you would be coming. We didn’t know that it would be you specifically. But we hoped, and we’ve been preparing for decades. The Ochivari already came here, and we fought them off, but we suffered losses. The only thing we regret now is not getting a single Providential out of here during the Ochivari’s retreat, who could have sought further retaliation for us. We probably want blood more than you. We’re not letting you go without us, so you have to decide whether this Thack lady is more important to you than skilled fighters. I may not know much about what’s out there, but I know that she’s not the only person who can help you recruit. Statistics don’t allow it. But there is no one like our elites. No one. They have been training for this for their whole lives, I don’t know if you know this, but we’re not immortal here. The proper physics forced our ancestors to give it up. We die of old age, just like humans. So time is valuable, and we’re not going to waste it like our ancestors’ ancestors did.”
Azura sighed and looked back at her own crew. None of them appeared to be against this idea, though to be fair, the only Maramon they had ever encountered before was herself, and she was only half. The Ochivari were the true bulkverse enemies, but make no mistake, Maramon could not be trusted either. That was why she ignored her initial mission, and tried to live her best life in Universum Originalis. Still, this was an impenetrable ultimatum. They were at these people’s mercy. But maybe she had one card to play. Maybe this was a negotiation. “One car.”
Azura nodded with a sigh. “Two.” She reached out for a handshake to seal the deal. “Welcome to the Transit Army.”
Ouheliydi reached back and shook it as she laughed. “No. You...welcome to the Transit Army.”

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