Saturday, June 15, 2024

Orthogradient: People of Stoutverse (Part VI)

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Primus Naraschone Mihajlović sat at the edge of her desk, body bent forwards at her waist, hands braced tightly against the wood. Splinters dug in underneath her fingernails, but she didn’t pay them any mind. She barely noticed, and she almost felt like she deserved it. The war was not going in her favor. The enemy just kept coming, and they couldn’t keep up with it. The aliens seemingly had an infinite supply of fighters, and there was no competing with that tactic. The home field advantage could only take them so far. If they could only figure out where these portals were going to form, she might be able to bottleneck them, or something, but they appeared to be random. Random or intentional. Or both. There was a knock on the door. “Enter.”
Her assistant and Head Bodyguard, Kineret McArthur walked in. “There’s another one.”
“Send a squadron. I’ll watch them all die from here.”
“The ship,” Kineret began to explain, “it’s different. It looks different, and as soon as the squadron responded tactically, it retreated.”
Naraschone perked up. “They’re adapting. Send a second squadron. Overwhelm them with everything we got.”
Kineret held her finger against her earpiece. “They don’t think it’s the Zippers. They sent a message in binary, so the scientists need time to convert it. The alien ship is projecting the golden spiral on the front. That’s a symbol of balance for us. Maybe it means the same thing to them.” She jerked her chin as she listened more. “More holographic images are coming in. Smiling humans. The vierkam heart. A...sort of half vierkam heart. They’re interpreting the next one as an olive branch.”
“What, are they surrendering?”
Kineret kept listening. “They converted the binary code. It’s just text. It says, we come in peace. Take us to your leader.
“Have the General send them my coordinates.”
“Sir, I would strongly advise—”
“I’m not going to last another week in office, Kin. They’re this close to voting me out. Egypt and Holland are prepared to back my replacement now, which means he officially has enough votes. Dying at the direct hands of an enemy would at least make my biography read less pathetic. Give them my coordinates.”
Kineret turned away, and whispered the orders into her mouthpiece.
A couple of minutes later, as Naraschone was putting her blazer back on, a woman suddenly appeared in the office. “How did you do that?”
“I was born with it,” the stranger replied. “Are you this world’s prime leader?”
“Yes, I’m Primus Naraschone Mihajlović.” She held her hand out, palm up, as was the custom.
The woman looked down at it. “I don’t know what to do with that. Where I’m from, we hug upon first meeting. Most of my crew shakes hands like this.” She pantomimed moving her hand up and down, palm facing the side.
“We do it like this.” Naraschone swung her arm over, and palm circled Kineret, but Naraschone’s hand was on top, since she was the superior.
The stranger smiled, and reached out to mimic Kineret, but as an honored guest, it was her hand that should be on top. “Eliana Prime.” That’s just a coincidence. It’s literally my surname.”
Nararschone carefully turned her hand over for her, and performed the ritual. “So, you’re not from our world either? Humans evolved on other planets, or did you simply arrive in a form that I am supposedly more comfortable with?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I’m from a different universe. My crew all hail from different universes beyond that. We came together to fight the Ochivari.”
“Is that what they’re called?” Kineret questioned. She took out her handheld device to write that down, and take any other necessary notes.
Eliana lifted her chin as if to watch her type, but couldn’t really see, and didn’t care to. “Ochivari is plural. Singular is Ochivar. They originated on a planet called Worlon in Salmonverse. They evolved from semiparasitic insectoids which were accidentally introduced to human DNA millions of years prior. We don’t understand the mechanism by which the foreign code was integrated into their systems, but we hypothesize that it gave their ancestors a survival advantage over their cousins  who did not receive it.”
“This is good stuff, keep going,” Kineret encouraged.
“I’m no expert,” Eliana clarified. “I’m just the teleporter on the team. I’m not even the main teleporter. If you would like to speak with our captain, I could take you to her, but be warned, she is decidedly not human. Her form can be alarming to some.”
“I can handle it,” Naraschone insisted. “I’ve seen plenty of Zippers first hand.”
“Hold on,” Kineret interrupted, holding her earpiece again. “Another one just appeared. Very different form too. It’s...quite large.”
Eliana looked pleased. “Azura and the Transit found us. Thank God, we could use their help. Have you been at war for a long time? Ochivari don’t usually fight physically. They generally release this virus—”
Kineret interrupted again, “it’s a giant cube. It just appeared in the middle of Plangol Field.”
“A cube?” Eliana asked. “That would be the Crossover. There’s no telling who’s in it right now. It changes hands, and I’ve not even begun to explain to you how time works for people who traverse the bulk.”
“If you’re a teleporter, that means you can get me there?” Naraschone asked. “It’s on the other side of the planet.”
“Sir, please,” Kineret urged.
Eliana held out both of her hands. “All aboard who’s coming aboard.”
Naraschone grasped one hand while Kineret hesitated. “I guess I have to go to protect you,” she lamented before taking Eliana’s other hand.
The three of them were standing before the large Crossover cube. A ship was just landing next to it at the same time. Eliana looked upon it with a sense of familiarity that she did not show the cube. A second...building maybe, appeared as well. It was much smaller, fit for only a handful of people. Humans started coming out of all three structures, but more were coming from their own portals, each of which sparkled and shined with two or three dozen brilliant colors. A small group appeared, releasing a blast of energy that was enough to blow everyone’s hair back, but not enough to knock them over. A spacewoman appeared to be literally tearing through the colorful fabric of spacetime. More of this sort of fabric rippled and waved next to her as a coat formed from the aether. The man wearing it pulled the hood back, and smiled. Glass cracked and shattered as another man forced himself through his breach. He reached back through, and helped a companion of his across. A woman slowly faded into view to their left, sitting cross-legged on the ground. Yet another woman burst out of nothing, and crash landed next to her, but she seemed to be okay.
Eliana recognized some of them, but not everyone. She walked over to greet the others from her ship as they were descending the ramp. It was hard to tell who was in charge at first. Unless they came in together, they expressed surprise at being there together. Naraschone would think that the small group from the giant cube would be the leaders, but they looked just as out of the loop as everyone else. It was the woman escorted by the man who literally punched his way here who stepped away from the forming crowd, towards Kiteran and Primus Mihajlović. “Hello Primus. I’m Thack Natalie Collins, temporary coordinator of the vanguard. I wanted everyone to come here so they could see what happens when the natives of a given world fight back. You may feel distress, but you are faring better than you realize. When the Ochivari come to a universe, they usually only do one of two things. They leave it alone, or they sterilize the entire population, and then bug out. You’re proof that they do not get to decide everything.”
“I don’t understand,” Naraschone admitted.
“We’ll talk more about it.” Thack turned to the crowd, which quieted down for her. “Travelers of the bulk, welcome to Stoutverse. The fighting has only begun here. What the Ochivari do not realize is that everything they’ve been doing so far have been only minor skirmishes. The first battle in a multiversal war is coming, and you are all here to bear witness.” She consulted her watch. “The Transit will be arriving within the hour. Until then, I’ll ask the current operators of the Crossover—specifically the managers of Kingdom Hotel—to prepare a meal for us all. Khuweka, if you will, please take the Cormanu back into orbit, scan for breaches, and protect this world until the Transit Army arrives. Your crew will stay with us.”
“I would be honored to, Miss Collins.” This must have been who Eliana was talking about. While everyone else here looked human, Khuweka was tall, white, and almost monstrous. She could be intimidating if she wanted to be, but her voice was soft and unimposing. There was only one other like her. He was originally in the small building, but he followed his brethren up the ramp into the Cormanu without asking for permission, or even saying a word at all. Naraschone didn’t even know if he was a man. He just looked more masculine to her.
There were more in the Crossover cube than the small group that came out of it at first, but Naraschone didn’t get the impression that it was anywhere near full capacity. Picnic tables appeared out of nowhere, but Eliana wasn’t the one who did it. Her ship, the Cormanu itself appeared to be a conscious entity, capable of transporting anything from anywhere on the planet. Probably no one was missing all this stuff right now since most people were trying to survive in the bunkers. Well, not most. They had yet to build sufficient facilities for the entire population of the planet. They never thought they would need anything like that. They should have been better prepared. Lives would have been spared.
Kineret was uncomfortable taking this time away from the chaos of war that they had been in the midst of for the last few years, but Thack Collins was confident that the two Maramon, as they were called, were capable of defending them from orbit. Some of the others who came here were not soldiers, but a lot of them were, so they could jump into action if another wave showed up. Eliana’s remark that they were from all different sorts of universes was true of those who did not arrive in the Cormanu. The man who escorted Miss Collins was father to a young woman on the Cormanu. Her mother was supposed to be coming next on the fabled Transit, which would reportedly mark the whole world’s salvation as it was the only thing actually designed for a war like this one. Naraschone was holding off on judgment until later. For now, they just enjoyed the food that a man named Bell prepared, and talked. The two locals stayed quiet at first to let the others catch up with each other. This was evidently a pretty big deal. They had never all come together like this. There were supposed to be an infinite number of universes out there, but there must be something special about this one. Thack called it Stoutverse, a term that the natives had never used for themselves, but if Naraschone had anything to do with it, they would start now.
Naraschone was laughing with a new friend she met named Curtis, who had an endless supply of interesting stories about his time in an unnamed universe where he was part of a group of superheroes. He was part of The Grenadiers now. But Kineret wasn’t listening to him anymore. She was instead listening to her earpiece, which kept a constant consolidated stream of battle chatter. She was genetically engineered to be able to comprehend multiple voices at once, allowing her to keep apprised on the situation from many sources at once. It was called the Unified Tactical Awareness System, and while a lot of key players around the world could use it effectively to some degree, she could parse the highest number of distinct channels of anyone, which was why she worked directly for the Primus of Earth. “What is it?”
Kineret looked up at the crew of the Cormanu, who appeared to be listening to their own radio system. “They know. Breaches all over the place. It’s a full tactical assault.” The whole crowd stopped talking as she faced her superior. “We need to get you to the bunker. Eliana, it’s back on the other side of the world.”
“The mass incursion,” Thack Natalie Collins said, standing up. “I predicted this, but timekeeping is difficult to measure for me. You have so many time zones.”
Ecrin, the Captain of the Prototype—the small building that only a handful of people crewed—stood up. “What do we do?”
“I’m not a military leader,” Thack replied. “I can’t tell you what to do. But given the low maneuverability of your respective machines...I suggest everyone convene on the Cormanu.”
“Diamond Zek,” Kivi said, “beam us all up.”
They nearly all disappeared, leaving behind only Naraschone, Kineret, Thack, Thack’s bodyguard and universe puncher, Limerick, and Eliana. “Where’s this bunker?” Eliana asked.
“Right underneath the International Assembly House,” Kineret answered as she was tapping on her handheld device. “I’ll get you the coordinates.” Before she could recite them, a loud horn blared in the distance. A giant, and particularly long, object raced towards them. It stopped suddenly, right between all of the other machines and the picnic tables.
A woman stepped out of it, and approached the small group. Others followed behind her. “Where’s my daughter?” she asked Thack.
Thack pointed towards the sky, and looked up. “On the frontlines. The Darning Wars have begun.”

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