Saturday, June 1, 2024

Orthogradient: The Cormanu Crew (Part IV)

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Carbrey Genovese woke up. A quick look around told him that he was in the infirmary. No one else was there at first until Landis Tipton walked in. After he turned the lights on, he thought better, and dimmed them back down. He checked Carbrey’s pupillary response, and his vitals. “You have taken a long time to recover. I’m ashamed to say that I was unable to heal you myself. The theory is that my ability works on atmospheric medical conditions. You suffered complications due to temporary exposure to the vacuum of outer space, which I’ve never had to heal before, therefore my ability did not know how. Still, that doesn’t explain why I can’t repair the nerve damage you suffered due to likely traumatic injury.” He shook his head in shame. “I’ll keep trying.”
“What happened?” Carbrey asked.
“It’s not my place to say.” Landis paused before going on, “I mean, it’s not that I’m not authorized. I’m not qualified to understand it. Khuweka, could you get in here please?” he asked through his comms device.
She appeared out of nowhere. “Mister Genovese, I’m glad to see that you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“Confused,” Carbrey answered.
“That’s understandable, given your recent medical issues.”
“He asked for the story,” Landis relayed.
“Right.” Khuweka cleared her throat. “For reasons we still haven’t been able to piece together entirely, the Project Stargate probe was flying in the wrong direction. We successfully teleported around it, but instead of matching its vector, it just tore right through the back of the ship.”
“Casualties?” Cabrey asked.
She took a moment to respond. “Freya and Limerick didn’t make it. They shouldn’t have been standing so close.”
“You’re blaming them? This was my fault.”
“We do not believe that it was,” she said.
“It was my job to calculate the vector. I must have made a figure negative when it should have been positive, or something. Going the wrong way? Who does that?”
“We recorded three temporal energy signatures,” Khuweka began to explain. “It’s impossible to assign them to any particular temporal manipulation event, but we were only expecting one. Diamond Zek teleporting us to the probe was the only thing that we were going for, so what could the other two have been? My guess is that the probe was also altered, by some other party. We did detect that we were being followed. That was always a risk. If the Ochivari ever found out what we were trying to do, they could have gone to any extreme to stop it.”
“It wasn’t the Ochivari.” Another woman was in the room, who Carbrey did not recognize. Judging by the expression on Landis and Khuweka’s faces, neither did they.
“Who the hell are you?” Khuweka questioned, all tensed up.
“Sanaa Karimi. Who the hell are you?” she snapped back.
Khuweka relaxed. “Oh, you’re fine. How long have you been here, though?”
“Longer than you.” Sanaa had a bit of an attitude.
“Care to elaborate?”
“Not really.”
“She was in stasis.” Eliana walked in as well. “Diamond Zek finally picked her up when the primary power source on her pod faltered from the crash, and it reverted to the secondary. That split second power distribution anomaly tipped us off. Otherwise, we never would have found her.”
“Actually, it is I who found you,” Sanaa claimed. “Where do you think the ship came from in the first place? It was randomly shifting through time and space to escape the clutches of an evil trio from the future. They were tracking it the entire time, and it was running out of power. Its only hope was for me to fake its destruction, and command it to make one final jump. Unfortunately, the only jump that I was able to trigger was back to its underground hangar of origin, where you happened to be. Everything was fine there until you decided to take it out for a joyride, putting it back on the trio’s radar, allowing them to catch up to it. To you. To us.”
“I’ve never heard of an evil trio from the future,” Khuweka contended.
“You’ve not heard of everything,” Sanaa reasoned.
“What can we do now?” Eliana asked. “I assume they’re still after us.”
“They don’t care about you,” Sanaa explained. “They want this ship. It’s important to them, and they won’t stop looking for it. There’s only one place where it can survive, but if you take it there, there’s no coming back.”
“Unacceptable,” Khuweka determined, shaking her head, not even bothering to ask for specifics. “We have to stop the Ochivari. That is the only mission that matters.”
Sanaa sighed. “I’ve been reading your ethicist’s mind. She knows more about this than you believe. You expected to be able to pose any problem to her, and have her vomit a response, but you didn’t think she would do her due diligence? She’s been studying just as hard as Freya has with her engineering courses.”
“How long have you been out of stasis?” Khuweka questioned.
“You can read minds?” Carbrey asked, still lying back in his recovery bed.
Sanaa ignored them both. “The Ochivari are bulk travelers, and as you know, each brane operates on its own timestream. They have absolutely nothing to do with each other. You can leave 2337, and when you end up in the neighboring brane, it might be 2024. You didn’t travel back in time, you simply pierced the membrane at the spot where 2024 exists, because for the membrane, time is a spatial dimension.”
“Yes, I know all this,” Khuweka asserted.
“Then why were you under the impression that you could stop the Ochivari? They’re bulk travelers!” she reiterated. “Once you leave the universe you were born in, your existence becomes inherently locked in. You cannot be erased from the past. The best anyone could hope for would be to erase the timeline where you were from, but at worst, if you ever go back to your home universe, you’ll just end up in the new timeline. It’s irrelevant that you were never born there, because you were born there at one point. That cannot be undone anymore.”
Khuweka grimaced. Or she was horny. It was really hard to tell what a Maramon’s facial expressions meant. “Yeah, I was afraid of that.”
“This mission was never about stopping the Ochivari,” Sanaa said.
“What was it about?”
“It was about how great I am at timing big reveals,” Sanaa said cryptically. She stepped over to the smartwall, and masterfully transitioned it into a hull camera feed, making it appear as though it simply turned into a large viewport. A tiny ship appeared out of nowhere. “It was about making her.”
Khuweka went over to the wall, and opened a channel. “Unidentified vessel, please identify yourself.”
Cormanu, this is the Strongbox. Please open an airlock for boarding. We come in peace. We have some mutual friends.
Khuweka looked over at Sanaa, who nodded approvingly. Khuweka hesitated. “Zek, mauve alert. I don’t know if we should be trusting whoever the hell that is.”
They all teleported to the airlock, even Carbrey, who was placed in the future’s version of a wheelchair, though it had no wheels. It was electromagnetic, which allowed it to hover around thirty centimeters from the floor. He could steer it with a simple and intuitive joystick. The seat was soft and comfortable, and the cushions could conform to suit his needs as they changed. He was still in a lot of pain, and he couldn’t move his lower body, though he could still feel down there, particularly the pain. The autodoctor’s initial diagnosis was an incomplete spinal cord injury. He was immobilized, but not fully paralyzed. The prognosis was not yet available, but he may never walk again.
The mysterious little ship entered its side of the airlock, and waited for it to be pressurized. Once that was done, three people stepped out of it, and patiently waited for the hatch to open, which Khuweka was still reluctant to do. Sanaa rolled her eyes, and just opened it instead. “How did you know the co—oh, right; psychic.”
The three new strangers stepped through. One of them was a teenage girl. “My name is Treasure Hawthorne.” She didn’t say it with her mouth. A voice came out of a tiara-looking thing on her head. “I am Freya and Limerick Hawthorne’s daughter. This is my friend Rosalinda James, and my lover, Quina Velsteran.” She was horrified at herself. “I shouldn’t’ve said it like that. I’m sorry,” she said to him.
“It’s fine,” he replied.
“It’s just that we never really defined the relationship.”
“Really, Treasure, it’s fine. Let’s get back to business.”
“Right. Here’s the thing. I have my father’s ability, and each time I use it, I end up somewhere that has recently experienced its own bulk traveling event. At least that’s our theory. I think my body is seeking sources of bulk energy. I can’t figure out how to get home, even though I know for a fact that the Transit recently showed up there—”
“The Transit?” Khuweka asked, hope and excitement in her eyes. Or she was bored. Again, it was hard to tell. “Who’s piloting the Transit?”
Khuweka’s eyes widened now. That had to be surprise. “She survived. Ho-ho-oh my God.” She stepped away to pace. “Azura is the founder of the Transit Army.”
“Uh, no, my mother is,” Treasure clarified.
“Right,” Khuweka accepted. “Because she’s alive. What happened to her?”
“I don’t have time for the full story,” Treasure said. “I need to get back to Voldisilaverse, and I think you can help, and I think that my power sent me here for a reason, because maybe there’s some sort of separate sentience to it. I’m rambling again, but the point is that I need to link up to your power-boosting platform.”
“Uh, power is limited,” Eliana chimed in. “This thing can barely hold life support online. We’re dead in the water, so nobody’s using the platform right now.”
“I can make it work,” Carbrey informed them.
“You are in no condition to do anything,” Landis countered.
“My brain is fine,” Carbrey argued. “I just need to be sitting while I do it.”
“I’m good with my hands,” Quino said. “You tell me what to do, and I’ll do it in your stead. Will that work?”
They all looked to Khuweka. “I am not a doctor,” she began, “nor Carbey himself. If you’re feeling up to it, you can go ahead, but Landis is in charge of your health, and he can override any decision you try to make in regards to the work that you perform. He has the power to bench you, which may mean getting some rest back in the infirmary. We’re time travelers, people. There is no such thing as urgency. Doctor Spellmeyer, please accompany them, and make sure that everyone is happy and safe. Treasure,’re with me.” She walked off.
Diamond Zek teleported everyone to their stations. The three ladies were in Captain Kadrioza’s Strategy Room, which was just a fancy thing to call her office. She sat at her desk while the other two sat in the two opposing chairs. Eliana teleported in soon thereafter. “You are not needed here,” Khuweka told her.
“Yes...I am,” Eliana insisted. She stood by the door like a bodyguard. Back in her home universe, she underwent the same basic combat training that everyone in her agency received, but was never on the operative’s track, so there was only so much she would be able to do in the event of some kind of attack or altercation. Though with Limerick gone—and besides Khuweka herself, who was a nigh invincible alien—Eliana was the probably best fit for ad hoc ship security.
“Very well.” Khuweka cleared her throat. “I know you by reputation, Miss Karimi. Treasure, if you are who you say you are, I’m sure you’ll do great things. But trust is not something that I can just give away freely. This is a very delicate situation, and—”
Captain, an unidentified ship approaches,” Kivi’s voice came in through the intercom. “It’s not responding to calls. We’ve begun evasive maneuvers.
“That would be the trio,” Sanaa said confidently.
“Is that bad? That sounds bad,” Treasure guessed.
“Yes, it does, but as I was saying, you two arrived here unexpectedly. Maybe they too are friends, not foes.”
“They’re def foes,” Sanaa insisted. “You have to get out of here fast.”
“Zektene, do you have the power you need?” she asked, but the response was not vocal. They only enjoyed a psychic connection to Diamond Zek.
The two who had not yet formed a bond with her sat in silence, Treasure having no clue what was going on, since she could only recall so much of what her mother taught her about this ship, and her long-lost friends.
“No,” Khuweka shouted with her voice, but it was too late.
Zek transported Treasure next to the booster platform.
“Uhh, it’s only been a minute,” Quino told her. “Mister Genovese here hasn’t even finished explaining to me what it is exactly. We need to divert power first—”
“There’s no time for that.” She stepped onto the platform just as everyone else was appearing in the room.
“Don’t do this,” Khuweka ordered. “Zek, listen to me. Get her out of here.”
“I’m gonna get us all out of here,” Treasure contended. She placed her hands upon the handles, and closed her eyes tightly. She let the ship’s remaining power surge through her body, mixing with the bulk energy that was already metabolizing in there. Then she screamed the whole vessel into a different universe, hopefully leaving their pursuers behind.

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