Saturday, July 13, 2024

Expelled: Exploded (Part IV)

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There were two ways to gather temporal energy for time travel, or to accomplish other temporal manipulation goals. One was to find it in a parallel dimension, and the other...was to literally wait for it. In the end, that was really all temporal energy was: the passage of time. The ladies listened to Elder’s explanation silently until they thought he was done. “What if we took multiple trips?” Rita suggested. You go back, reconnect with Extremus, build a larger time machine, and then come back for us.”
“I don’t want to be stuck here without a temporal engineer,” Debra argued.
“You wouldn’t be,” Rita tried to clarify. “It’s time travel. He could return to this moment a second after he left.”
“Unless wherever he goes kills him,” Debra reasoned.
“I’m not even sure if I can gather enough temporal energy for even one trip as far back in time as we need to go,” Elder tried to continue. “I’m just pretty sure that I can’t take anyone with me. It’s the triple mass rule. The average choosing one can transport themselves plus two buddies. The machine itself would be more massive than three people alone, which means that it will require extra temporal energy. Maybe if one of us metabolized the energy naturally, it would be different, but this is all very uncertain.”
The conversation halted when they heard a noise outside. It sounded like something was falling. They were in the garage, which didn’t have any windows. “Was that one of the solar panels?” Rita guessed.
They stepped into the foyer to look out one window, but couldn’t see anything. They spun around to the opposite window when the sound recurred. They still couldn’t see anything, so they peeked over the sill as far as they could. Debra had the best angle. “There’s something sparkly down there.”
“Sparkly, like a diamond?” Rita asked.
“More like water. Or ice.” That was when they saw it. It was ice. It was fallen ice, also known as hail. Whether it was made out of water was a question they couldn’t answer, not yet.
Elder pulled out his handheld device, and commanded the nearest exterior drone to drive over to the ball of ice, and run a quick analysis. “It’s water ice. Ninety percent dihydrogen monoxide, plus five percent air bubbles, and three percent dust. The other two percent is carbon, and a few other trace elements.”
“Guys. Look,” Rita encouraged.
They raised their heads to find that the few pieces of hail were only the vanguard. It was hailing and raining in the distance. The precipitation appeared to be coming out of nowhere from about thirty meters above the ground. “I guess now we know where Oaksent has been living.” Elder gritted his teeth, irritated about what this meant.
“He looks like he has a lot of temporal energy,” Debra pointed out the obvious.
“Yeah, looks like it,” Elder admitted.
“It’s just that...if we wanna get out of here, you two are gonna have to swallow your pride, and let us go over to speak with him.”
“Yes, Debra, thanks, we get it,” Rita snapped back. “Is the rover ready?” she asked Elder.
He first manufactured a rover to test the stability and durability of the metals found on this planet. They could do with a way to travel away from the structure in person anyway, and it came with lower stakes than the time machine will. “It’s finished, but I’ve not tested it.”
“You should do that today,” Debra suggested.
One time, when Elder was looking for a book on the tablet that he hadn’t read yet, he came across a personal document that Debra had written. It was fanfiction that portrayed Bronach Oaksent as the hero, and Debra herself as the damsel in distress. She couldn’t even picture herself as the protagonist of her own novel, which was what saddened Elder the most. He didn’t read much of it, because it wasn’t any of his business, but his speedreading kicked in automatically, so he got the gist of it pretty quickly. She had contrived this whole fantasy about a man she had barely met. They didn’t even have an image of him in the database. Her entire idea of what kind of person he was came from a short biography in the manifest, while her imagination had to fill in the rest. She thought of him as her savior mostly because Elder was the poisoner. The fact that Oaksent was the one who had orchestrated this whole thing was a causal connection that she wasn’t capable of making. This wasn’t surprising considering she also struggled to string two sentences together into a coherent thought. That was probably why she sought out men like Oaksent in the first place, because she relied on others, and always had. Coming aboard Extremus alone was the biggest mistake she had ever made, and this would be true even if none of this had happened to her. “Boy, you’re quite anxious to get to your little boyfriend, aren’t you, Karen?” That was mean.
“Don’t call me that!”
Elder didn’t want to apologize, and Rita didn’t want to give him the chance to try, and screw it up, so she changed the subject. “Do what you need to with the rover, and then we’re leaving.”
“It holds two people,” Elder clarified. “One of us will have to stay here. Or should I say, one of you, because I obviously have to go.”
Rita looked over at Debra apprehensively, who looked back in fear. She had obviously been dreaming of finally meeting her hero for months, but she was not useful. Elder was the genius, and Rita was the leader. So her only option would be to beg. Rita sighed, apparently giving up already. “You go, but I’m trusting you with that. You know how we feel about him. If you make one choice that gets any of us hurt because you can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, you’ll wish you had chosen to stay.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Debra complained.
Rita gave Elder a look. Perhaps she too had come across the fanfiction. It was just sitting there in one of the main menus. She didn’t even password protect it, like an amateur. “Just follow my instructions before you leave, and while I’m on the radio. And whenever I’m not telling you what to do, listen to Elder. That’s all you have to worry about. You don’t have to make any decisions at all.”
“Fine.” Debra wasn’t happy, and was probably already searching for loopholes in this mandate.
Elder went back to the garage to shift gears from the time machine to the rover. He gave it multiple inspections. Whenever he encountered an issue that needed to be corrected, he would then go all the way back to the beginning, and start the inspection over. His own safety codes demanded that he complete an inspection in full without discovering any problems whatsoever. Measure twice, cut once was a cliché for a reason. Once it was ready, he piloted it remotely from the safety of the structure, but only for twenty minutes. The safest way to do it would be to have it make several unmanned trips, but Rita was anxious for answers, and they didn’t know how much, or how little, temporal energy Oaksent had stored up, or how he was using it. There were different ways to trigger a hyperlocalized low altitude thunderstorm, and some were more efficient than others. There was no purpose to causing the weather event in this situation beyond demonstrating his might, so it was a total waste. Elder might need to get him to stop before they ran out of the energy they needed for the time machine.
He moved the rover back into the garage, and repressurized it. Debra was packed up and ready to go. She had showered, which wasn’t a bad idea, if for bad reasons. Elder decided to take a quick one himself, further delaying departure, and making her even more impatient. After he was out, and ready to go himself, Kivi pulled him aside. “Here.” She handed him a gun.
“Where the hell did you get this?” Elder questioned. They had never had a gun on this planet before.
“I don’t know,” Kivi replied.
“You don’t know?” he echoed. “Don’t you think that’s a little weird?”
“I found it in my personal back the day we arrived on this godforsaken planet,” Kivi explained. “I didn’t say anything, because tensions were so high back then, and I didn’t say anything later, because there was no reason for it. Well, there’s reason now. Oaksent is dangerous, and you need to protect yourself.”
“Kivi, he’s the mastermind. He probably gave you the gun. He slipped it in your bag, knowing that you had been marked for transport.”
“Maybe,” Kivi agreed. “It doesn’t matter. Take it. I don’t advocate for violence, but I would rather it be in your hands than his...or mine, for that matter.”
“Fine.” He carefully stuck it in his own pack, and headed out to the rover where Debra was waiting. He performed one more quick inspection, the kind you were supposed to do every time you went out for a drive, whether it was on an alien planet, or within the safety of a breathable atmosphere. Then he and Debra waved goodbye to Rita and Kivi, and headed out into the minor unknown.
The rain and hail fell upon the rover, causing annoying damage to the frame. It was a new vehicle, but it already required repairs. Great. Fortunately, they found that the storm served only as a border between the two camps. They passed through it quickly, and ended up in Bronach’s domain. Now they realized why Elder’s drones had never managed to find it, because it was located within its own parallel spatial dimension. This wasn’t a pocket dimension, but it was similar. It was sunny here, and grassy on the ground, and the air was thick and breathable. He had come a hell of a lot more prepared than Elder had ever suspected. Oaksebnt was going to win this battle of minds. Debra would never see him as the enemy now.
“What a dick,” Debra said.
“He’s had this the whole time, and never said anything? I’ve been shitting in a hole, and showering with freezing cold water. What. A. Dick!” Wow, that was a dramatic swing in the other direction. It was a little offensive. The toilet that Elder ended up building for them was nothing fancy, and it was made out of metal, since they had no ceramics to work with, but it was pretty nice. “Ugh. Stop the car.”
“We can’t get out yet, Debra. I can’t be sure that this is real.”
“Stop the car!” she repeated.
He came to stop, and let her open the door. A gust of wind rushed in, and didn’t kill them, so the atmosphere appeared to be legit. And anyway, if Oakset had wanted them dead, there were easier ways than tricking them into thinking that this was a hospitable environment.
Oaksent stepped out of his brick house with a huge smile plastered on his face. “You’re finally here! Only two of your survived?”
“The other two are back home,” Elder replied.
“Two?” Oaksent asked. “Rita, and who?”
“Kivi,” Debra answered. “Kivi Bristol.”
Oaksent shook his head rather apathetically. “Never heard of him.” Hm. As much as he knew, maybe he didn’t know everything. He wasn’t God.
“It’s a her,” Debra corrected.
“How are you powering your dimension?” Elder asked, only wanting to be here long enough to make some kind of arrangement.
“Initially?” Oaksent began. “Temporal battery. Now, a temporal generator.” He chuckled when Elder looked around for it. “It’s disguised as that mountain.”
Yeah, that rock spire would be about the right size for something like that. A temporal generator would have to be a giant tower. It either collected energy from two dimensions that operated at different temporal speeds, or it processed the flow of normal time over the course of aeons. Neither one should have been possible. For the first method, you can’t get any more energy out than you put into creating and maintaining the parallel dimension, so it would have to be maintained through some other source. For the second method, it would obviously have taken a long time to build up the energy required to be useful. It had only been less than a year. “Hm.”
“You’re confused, I can see that.” Bronach was quite pleased with himself. “Tell me, have you ever seen the Bill and Ted films?”
Elder knew exactly what he was talking about. The Bill and Ted Gambit was a time travel trick where, instead of being prepared for present and near-future obstacles, you make plans to later go back in time to make those preparations. If you’re operating within a single timeline—which you aren’t always, so be careful—then it will appear as if you could see the future. It took the concept of cause and effect, and flipped it in reverse, so the effect essentially caused the cause. It was risky, relying on your future self to accomplish something in the exact same way that you had already experienced, but not impossible given enough time and power. “So. I will one day take you back in time, and in the past, you will have me build a temporal generator on this planet, so your past self can use it in our current present.”
Oaksent acted like he wasn’t smart enough to instantly track the sentence as he carefully considered it for a few seconds. “Yes,” he said, tapping an imaginary nail on the head with his finger. “Except I’m not sure whether you were the one who built the generator for me. All I know is it was waiting for me precisely where I wanted it to be.”
“What do you want in exchange for the temporal energy?”
“A ride, obviously. You want the time machine too. You want it to go back to Extremus, and I want it to go back to before the Extremus even existed.”
“We can’t go back to the Extremus if you prevent it from existing,” Debra reasoned.
“I never said that I was interested in that,” Oaksent insisted, shaking his head. “On the contrary. When I say before the Extremus, I mean way, way before, but that doesn’t mean I want to do anything to it. I don’t care about it anymore. I’m exactly where I would like to be, and the crew and passengers of that ship can go off wherever they want, as long as they stay out of my way.”
“What happens if they don’t?”
Oaksent sighed. “They will. Because you will warn them to leave me alone. This is my domain. Neither Extremus nor the stellar neighborhood wants or needs it, so let me do my thing, and we will all get what we want.”
“I don’t think so.” Debra suddenly pulled a gun out of the back of her pants, and trained it on Oaksent.
“Why the hell does everyone have a gun around here?” Elder exclaimed.
“It’s the same one, Old Man,” Debra explained. “I heard Kivi talking to you, and took it out of your bag while you were focused on the road.”
“Well...” Elder began. “Don’t use it.”
“I thought you would be my biggest fan,” Oaksent said to her, hands up defensively. He didn’t look too scared, but not because he knew what was going to happen in the future, only because she didn’t seem like the violent type.
“Don’t underestimate me!” Debra cried. “I’m sick of everyone thinking that they know who I am. But you people never actually ask me about myself. You just make these unfounded assumptions about me because I maybe complain a little too much, I have trouble taking responsibility for my own actions, I’m insecure about my mistakes, and I find it a lot easier to blame everyone else for my problems! But that doesn’t mean you know me!”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Bronach said in a tone.
She waggled the gun towards him. “You could have made our lives a lot easier with your little time mountain thing, but you chose to keep to yourself! What kind of selfish son of a bitch are you?”
“It was a test,” Oaksent argued.
“Oh, it was a test?” she asked mockingly. “Test these bullets!” She fired the gun, but missed, because she wasn’t exactly an expert marksman.
Oaksent took this opportunity to take out his firearm, and shoot at her instead. He too missed, but not because he didn’t know how to aim. A masked man appeared literally out of thin air, and took it on the chest. He tripped backwards a little, but didn’t fall down.
Elder couldn’t see the time traveler’s face, but he recognized the mask. This was standard issue in the Darning Wars for ground battles that took place on unbreathable worlds. Thousands of people wore it, but there was only one man who would logically be standing before them right now. The stranger removed the mask, and smirked at all of them. It was a young Elder Caverness. Present!Elder didn’t recall ever being here in his own past, but that wasn’t surprising since he already knew he had deliberately erased the memory of several years of his life.
“What the hell?” Debra asked.
Oaksent was shocked too.
“Fire in the hole,” Young!Elder said coolly. He lifted a device in his right hand, and pressed the button on the top of it. The temporal generator disguised as a rock spire exploded, sending temporal energy every which way.

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