Saturday, May 18, 2024

Orthogradient: The Hawthorne Family (Part II)

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Limerick started to run up the stairs, hoping to get to his family in time. Some kind of weird giant train thing had just appeared out of nowhere, and was sliding down the road. People didn’t really use roads anymore, not for driving anywhere, but they were still there, and necessary bridges between two places that people needed to walk to. He couldn’t tell if anyone was hurt, but his only concern right now was his wife and daughter. He met them on the landing, and his heart jumped back up to where it belonged in his chest. Once he caught his breath, he said, “go back up to the panic room. I’ll figure out what’s going on here.”
“I know what’s going on,” Treasure explained. She didn’t say it out loud. Instead, her voice was coming through a silver tiara on her head that he had never seen before. “That’s the Transit. Azura has come back for me.”
Limerick’s eyes darted over to Freya, who shook her head, having not yet heard the story either.
Treasure sighed. “I’ve been traveling...without you. I spent weeks in multiple branes, and I’ll explain later, but right now, I have to go meet my friend.”
Limerick shook his head. “If that thing is from another brane, then it can travel through time, and literally anyone could be in there. It could be your friend, or it could be your enemy. It could be a fictional character from your favorite movie. You just don’t know. You’re not going anywhere.”
“I’m an adult now, you can’t stop me.” Treasure started to pass her father.
“You turned eighteen already?” Freya questioned. “You said you had been gone for weeks.”
“Maturity isn’t just a number, mother. I’ve seen some shit. That’s why I’m an adult. Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
“Why are you talking like that? Why don’t you move your lips?”
Treasure was growing ever frustrated and impatient. “I either don’t move my lips, or I cut myself. Which would you prefer?” She started to hop down to the first floor.
“Why would those ever be the only two options?” Freya shouted to her.
“Why isn’t she wearing her necklace anymore?” Limerick questioned.
“Haven’t you heard?” Freya popped back as she was following her daughter. “She’s seen some shit now.”
The three of them went outside. Limerick tried to walk between Treasure and this giant spacetrain thing, but she was confident, and completely unworried. A woman stepped out from the second car from the front, and looked around. “Azura!” Treasure cried, louder than expected. She was amplifying her voice using the tiara thing.
Azura started jogging down the ramp. “Treasure! You found your way home!”
“It wasn’t easy,” Treasure admitted. “We didn’t come straight here.” They took each other into a hug.
Azura could clearly see that Treasure’s parents were not happy. “Mister Hawthorne and Madam Einarsson—”
“Missus Hawthorne,” Freya corrected, “and I suppose you can just call me Freya.” She took her husband’s name when they married to further distinguish herself from her alternate, Saga Einarsson.
“Limerick.” He shook the stranger’s hand while his wife did not. “You came in pretty fast. Did you hurt anyone on your way through?”
“Dad,” Treasure scolded.
“It’s a valid concern,” Azura admitted. “No, sir, we did not. The Transit is designed to seek out the closest entry point to the given coordinates that is unimpeded. An impediment can mean an empty car on the road, or a tent full of party people.”
“What exactly is your relationship with my daughter?” Limerick went on.
“Dad!” Treasure repeated herself with far more indignation this time.
The nearest portal trees suddenly began to shake. “That’s probably the government. Do not resist. They are more powerful than you may imagine.”
“We come in peace,” Azura insisted.
Several people came through the portal, four of them being a security contingency. They maintained a circle around the others, keeping their heads on swivels, but paying special attention to the Transit. One of the others was Treasure’s teacher, Thack Natalie Collins, and another was the Principal Guide, who was the leader of the entire world. Limerick did not recognize the third person. The fourth was the Treewalker, who kept his distance behind everyone. Principal Guide Rao brushed her guard away when he tried to stay between her and the Transit, much in the way that Limerick had tried with his own charge. “Azura of Ansutah, my name is Principal Guide Usha Rao. Allow me to be the first to officially welcome you to Voldisilaverse. Before we proceed, please understand that we have rules here. You will keep your onboard weaponry deactivated at all times. You will keep all of your mobile weapons inside the Transit walls at all times. All shore leave requests must be approved by my office. Fighters will not be allowed to congregate in groups more than two, but crewmembers will be allowed to group in fours.”
“I understand, and accept your terms,” Azura said, then shrunk a bit in embarrassment when she realized that the Usha wasn’t finished yet.
Usha didn’t flinch. “Furthermore, one guard will be posted next to each car of the Transit, on each side, and one will be posted on top of it, for a total of three local guards per car. A number at my discretion will be allowed into the Transit to monitor activity. They will stay out of your way, but this is not negotiable. I will also need a full manifest of your current crew and army, as well as obviously your intentions on my world. Do you accept all of these terms in full?”
“I do,” Azura replied without hesitation.
“Very well,” Usha said. “Please return to await the security detail. You will be alerted when it’s time for our debrief and negotiations.”
“Thank you, sir.” Azura went back towards the machine.
“No,” Miss Collins said when Treasure tried to follow.
“But I—”
“I know,” Miss Collins interrupted. “And the answer is no. Your debrief begins right now.”
“Don’t you already know what I went through?” Treasure figured. “Weren’t you watching me the whole time?”
Miss Collins took some time to respond. “For your” She turned around to head back to the portal trees, followed closely by the Treewalker. “Come along, dear,” Miss Collins urged. “You may come as well, mom and dad.”
The Hawthornes stepped into the portal, and exited on the other side of the country, where Miss Collins lived and worked. They continued in silence, into her work building, and up to her office. Treasure went out to the computer lab down the hall to retrieve a chair for herself while her parents sat down in the two that were already there.
Miss Collins took a breath. “I have been watching over your daughter for her entire life. I’ve been there for your whole family, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Absolutely,” Limerick said.
“Yes,” Freya concurred quickly.
“As you know, I can witness events on any of the nearest branes to ours, and that comes with a heavy weight of responsibility. I have never been able to give Treasure my undivided attention, so she is lucky to have two amazing caregivers to pick up the slack in that regard. You might not want to hear it, but your little girl is all grown up now, and it’s time for her to make her own way. She was never going to wait until she turned eighteen. I could see that, even though I can’t watch events in this universe unless I’m standing right there. I think you knew it too. She is an Einarsson, who is patient, thoughtful, and careful. But she’s also her father’s daughter. That makes her impatient, reckless, and unpredictable. You, I, and her other teachers, have all done what we can to teach her to be a good person, and as a lifelong learner myself, I don’t believe that ever ends, but at a certain point, your personality is kind of locked in.
“She is an amazing young woman, destined to do great things throughout the entire bulk. Whatever she just experienced during her first solo mission was a test that she gave herself, and only she can tell us whether she passed. So, how about it, Treasure? What was your score?”
Treasure squirmed in her chair. “I dunno...” She cleared her throat, even though she wasn’t using it to speak. She tried to look away, but Miss Collins didn’t allow that when they were having a conversation. “Can’t you just look at what happened now?”
“No. I must be careful about what I see, and when I see it. My spirit ability is a constant threat to the continuity of time. We wouldn’t want a paradox to destroy the multiverse, would we? I’ve taught you that.”
Treasure stood up to pace around the room a little, gathering her thoughts.
“I got shot.”
“What!?” Limerick and Freya exclaimed simultaneously.
“Let me finish,” Treasure requested. “When I screamed, I went to Azura’s universe. Well, it wasn’t her homeworld. She’s from Ansutah. She’s half-human, half-Maramon. At any rate, the space station where she was working was attacked, and I was caught in the crossfire. They shot me in the neck, and Azura pulled me to safety. She was trying to save her one escape route for later, but she used it to save me. I managed to illustrate that I needed to go to Salmonverse for help, and that’s how we ended up finding the Transit. A bunch of the attackers accidentally came with us. She fought them off single-handedly, and then patched me up. Over time, while we were all stuck there together, we grew close, and worked hard to figure out how to get out of there. We started to go to other universes, asking for help with power sources. It did not always go well, but I survived. I made friends, I fell in love...I think. He’s waiting for me in a random brane out there. Or maybe he’s not. Maybe when I go back, only seconds will have passed. The point is that my journey was not without its speed bumps, but I persevered. Did I get a perfect score? No. But did I pass? Yes, I should think so. Parental unit, you haven’t told me everything that you’ve done with your lives, but based on the stories that you have told me, my life is not unlike yours. Hawthornes end up in dangerous situations all the time, and we make it through. That’s what we do. That’s what I’ll continue to do, and I would love for you to be on my side, and to support me in that, but it is not a requirement. I’m Treasure Hawthrone, natural traveler of the bulk, and I’ll be damned if I do nothing with that responsibility.”
Her parents and Miss Collins didn’t say anything, stunned by the logorrhea that just spilled out of Treasure’s mouth.
She plopped back down in the chair, and slouched. “Oh, and I wear this tiara, because it translates my thoughts into audible sound. I have to do that, because my body metabolizes bulk energy, but it leaks out every time I speak, so if I want to keep it in, I can’t talk anymore.”
Freya stood up, and gestured for Treasure to do the same. She took her daughter in a warm embrace. “I love you, and I support you. But I’ll also always protect you. You don’t go anywhere without telling me. I don’t care how much bulk energy you lose, don’t rely on Miss Collins to update me on your whereabouts. No more secret trips, okay?”
“Okay,” Treasure answered.
Limerick stood up to hug her too. “Does this boy know how you feel?”
“Pretty much, yeah. His name is Quino. He was part of the attackers, but he wasn’t a fighter. He just carried stuff.”
“What did you give him?” Limerick asked.
“What, you mean, like, a present...or an STD?”
Limerick just flinched.
“I didn’t give him anything,” Treasure clarified. “He gave me a gift.”
Limerick gave his wife a kiss on the forehead. “We’ll be back.” He walked towards the door to punch the air. It wasn’t really the air, though, not when he was opening a shatter portal. He reached back and punched it again. He kept punching and punching. It made the objects in the room jiggle a little, but not enough to break anything. He punched and punched, and punched until the portal was wide enough to climb through. Then he reached back to offer Treasure his hand.
Without knowing exactly what was going on, Treasure accepted it, and went through the portal with him. They landed on a gorgeous field of various flowers. To one side of them was a pristine beach, and a calm turquoise sea. To the other a forest. In the distance were snow capped mountains. Treasure noticed all of the color around them. It felt like they were standing inside of a painting.
“I want you to pick out, or make, a gift for this boy. This is what Hawthornes do to show our love, respect, and commitment to our partners, especially in the beginning. I should have taught you this before, I just didn’t realize how much you had grown up until it was too late. It can be anything. When we were on prehistoric Worlon, I made your mother a garland chaplet out of twigs, leaves, grass, and flowers. But it doesn’t have to be hand-crafted. There’s a village where we can barter a few kilometers that way, and a city not too far from that.”
“You’re not mad? I thought you would hate Quino just from hearing he existed.”
“No, I’m not mad, hon. We’ll have to meet him, of course, but you’ll need a gift regardless. Even if the next time you see him, you break up, you must go with a gift.”
“Okay.” Treasure did want it to be something special that she made herself, rather than a heartless trinket from the market. She looked around; the field, the forest, and the beach. In the end, she made him a charm bracelet out of sea glass, seashells, sand, and stones.”

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