Brooke’s Battles

Beginning

Things were not normal in Brooke Victoria Prieto-Matic’s life. She was born on an island millions of lightyears from where her parents belonged. She was taken from those parents at a very young age, partly because of her condition. Her father was a time traveler with no control over his own travels. He and some of his friends had angered another traveler; one with enormous power, who forced them to remain away from Earth. She was apparently, however, not without mercy. Knowing that Brooke would be born without the ability to experience nonlinear time, she arranged for a friend to transport her across the universe in a small alien ship. It took millions of years, and though Brooke was asleep the entire time, the ordeal had forever bonded her to the life. When they finally arrived safely on Earth, humans were only starting to venture out into space. Brooke always knew she wanted to be a pilot, but in order for it to be exciting, she would have to wait until civilization had progressed further. And in order to do that, she needed to live long enough to see it. While a lot of her friends were capable of reversing their aging, or being some level of immortal, or just skipping over the boring parts, she had to rely solely on science. She decided to become a transhuman, and augment her body to survive longer, under strenuous conditions.
While time travel itself was still out of her reach, its influence on people she cared about would still have an effect on her. For almost the last twenty years, Brooke and a team of friends were on vacation. They spent time in Panama, Kansas City, and a few other places, before settling on the Northwest Forest circles. But that was not the whole truth. Also for the last twenty years, they were trapped under the rule of a tyrant with the ability to rewind every day once, then use her foreknowledge to control others. They had not only defeated her, but used a special weapon to undo everything she had ever done in her entire life, leaving the few of them with conflicting memories of two contradictory timelines. She could remember her extended sabbatical, which according to everyone else in the world, was what actually happened. But she could also remember being poisoned, tortured, and even killed. And so her break from work could not be over, because she was traumatized, and tired as hell. But of course, that wasn’t how life worked.
Early this morning, a message from a mysterious stranger appeared on her handheld device, as it did for one of her friends. Ecrin was not immortal, nor was she transhuman, but she was naturally ageless, and presently a few hundred years old. “I am not doing what they ask,” Ecrin said, “and neither should you.”
“Do we have anything better to do?” Brooke asked her, just playing devil’s advocate. “Besides wait for Leona?” Leona was another one of their friends, who only lived for one day every year. She was due back soon.
“Not die,” Ecrin offered. “We’re really busy not dying. For most people, it’s a passive endeavor, but for people like us, we have to actively work at not dying.”
“This true.”
“I don’t care who this is, or what they want, I’m staying as far from it as I can. The only thing that would get me to go is if I thought someone I cared about was in trouble.”
Their handhelds beeped. This is not an option. Please come at once.
“Argh!” Ecrin shouted slightly. “They’ve hot miked us!” She broke her handheld in half. “Break yours too.”
“What?”
“Come on, just br—” She was unable to finish her sentence before she literally disappeared, which was something that happened to people in their world from time to time.
Another message came to Brooke’s device. Doubt will not be tolerated. I’m only not apporting you here as well, because you’re pristinely ungifted. Please proceed to the highlighted route. Your friend will not be harmed either way. Brooke left immediately, and started running.
She only stopped upon reaching her destination, which was a small two story building. Most of the structures were wiped from the surface of the Earth, because they were wasteful and unnecessary. People nowadays lived amongst millions of other in tight clusters in strategic locations once belonging to independent nations. The rest was given back to the plants and animals. Still, a few disparate buildings remained, some to aid communication, and safety in the wilderness, but others were just kept secret.
She had to break herself into the front door with brute strength, into a medium-sized, darkened room. Ecrin was there already, in the middle of a conversation with some woman. Dozens of others were wandering around. None of them looked like they knew what they were doing there.
“Brooke, this is Holly Blue,” Ecrin said, nodding at the woman. “From the other timeline. She was one of the leaders of the resistance against Ulinthra.”
“I was what?” Holly Blue asked. Brooke remembered the name, and the individual, but had never had the pleasure of meeting her.
Another woman began to walk towards them from across the room. “A leader, like me,” she said in a Louisiana accent. “That is why you are here. You’re also a damn fine technician.”
“Explain,” Brooke demanded. The rest of the people wanted to know as well, but in a more puzzled way, since they had no frame of reference for any of this.
The woman in charge turned around and stepped back to address everyone. “My name is Magnolia, but you can call me The Overseer. I have gathered you here because each and every one of you was directly involved with the ultimate downfall of Ulinthra, a.k.a. Arianrhod, whether you remember it or not.”
Someone in the crowd held up his hand, but didn’t wait to be called on. “Who’s Ulinthra?”
“Exactly,” the Overseer said. “She was a time traveler from the past...a shockingly powerful one, who used her gifts to take over part of the world. You all helped rid her of the timeline, which is why you now don’t remember it.”
A lot of people scoffed and shook their heads.
The Overseer continued, “where were you just moments ago? You were scattered all over the word—one of you was all the way on Luna—but now you’re here. How? I apported you here, using my own power. Any doubts you have about the validity of my claims will soon be eradicated, I promise you this.”
“Why do you remember her?” Ecrin asked. The few of them had had the memories blended into their brains, but no one else should have had any clue.
“I have my sources,” the Overseer answered. “The real reason you’re here is I’m not the only other one who remembers. Ulinthra was obsessed with maintaining her control. She sought a number of contingencies, should anyone exercise an advantage over her. One of her experiments involved protecting a small group of her most devout followers from an alteration to the timeline. Their job is not to find a way to bring Ulinthra back from nonexistence, but to continue her legacy and vision for a world under rule. You are here to stop that.” She gestured for both Brooke and Ecrin to stand at either side of her. “This is Brooke Prieto. She will be your pilot. This is Ecrin Cabral. She will be your leader. Both of them remember Ulinthra, and all the terrible things she did. They were both killed by her doing, and have more reason than anyone to fix this before it becomes a real problem. I have reason to believe Ulinthra’s loyalists are organizing on Orcus and Vanth, so you will be starting your investigation there first.”
Orcus was a distant dwarf planet used primarily by criminals, who rejected modern unity in various ways, for various reasons. Since mandatory work was eliminated, so too was money itself. At this point, crime was something somebody did because they liked to do bad things; not because they just needed to get by. They were the worst kind, because they couldn’t be helped. If you were looking for a bad person, there was a good chance they were on Orcus, or its moon, Vanth, or at least had ties to them. They had no limits, no moral code, no guestlist. All were welcome, including law enforcement, because they held zero sway. It was a lawless nation that the current decision-makers didn’t feel were harming the solar system significantly enough to warrant being stopped. Many disagreed.
A man stepped forward, speaking partially to the Overseer directly, but also the rest of the group. “I don’t much care what you think you know about some alternate version of me. And I don’t care what everyone else is going to do, but I’m gonna go.” He started walking towards the door. “I suggest you do the same, before this crazy person gets you killed.”
As the man was walking away, the Overseer waved her hand towards him, and created a black portal on the floor, into which he fell. “I was having my doubts about him anyway. Anyone else want to pass up a once in two lifetimes chance to save the world?”
No one said anything, because though Brooke was confident that the Overseer had simply apported the deserter back home, it looked like she might have killed him.
              “Good.” She took hold of a small, blue device attached to her belt loop, and pressed a button on it. The floor started lowering below the ground. Some of the less-enhanced humans stumbled at the sudden movement, but nobody fell over. “Then I present to you, your home for the next however long it takes for you to ensure the Ulinthra loyalists are taken care of.”
“Is that...?” Ecrin began to ask.
“Yes,” the Overseer confirmed, then went on to explain what they were looking at, but Brooke didn’t need an explanation. Before her was one of the most magnificent creatures she had ever seen. It was the kind of vessel she had dreamed of flying. Yes, it was chock-full of weapons, but it was also possessed the most resilient of bulkheads in history. Such an elegant design, and always underestimated. Lots of enemies tried and failed to destroy her years ago, before the nations were united towards the common good of the world. She was old now, but still looked as beautiful as when she was first built. Brooke actually witnessed her launch back then, and remembered reading the reports of her heroic peacekeeping efforts over time. She was decommissioned after the fighting ceased, and never brought back online, not even in the alternate reality with Ulinthra. A man named Darrow had once predicted that Brooke would be piloting something like this, but had not given a name. Today, Brooke knew that he was telling the truth about her future. Never in a thousand years did she think she would be at the helm of a warship, certainly not this one; the most glorious ever. “Ladies and gentlemen...The Sharice Davids.”

Believers

The Sharice Davids was an old ship by the time Ecrin and Brooke took over as Captain and Pilot, respectively. It was only capable of traveling at about one percent the speed of light. This meant it would take nearly a month to reach Orcus and Vanth. At the moment, Brooke was sitting in the commissary, which she had little use of, since she did not require much sustenance. It was the middle of the arbitrary sleeping period, and though people were too nervous about their arrival tomorrow to sleep well, most were in their quarters. The kitchen manager came in and flipped on the lights.
“Whoa,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would be here.”
Brooke looked at her wrist, where there was no watch, because she had a literally clock installed in her brain. “Oh, is it coffee time already?”
He feigned a gradual increase in fear. “Wait, if you’re here...who’s flying the ship?” He was well aware that it was fully automated. An independent pilot was almost never necessary in a technical sense, but a lot of people still felt more comfortable knowing that a person was in charge. The fact that she was nearly more artificial than biological didn’t seem to be a problem. To them, all that mattered was that she was born, and raised naturally, before acquiring any programming.
“It’s not quite time for me to get breakfast going. I come in early, because getting out of bed always wakes up my husband, so he needs the extra time to fall back asleep.”
“You’re married to...uh, Allen?” Brooke tried to remember.
He smiled. “I’m Allen. Married to Richard.”
“Right, sorry. My systems aren’t fully operational.” She was capable of simply downloading the ship’s manifest into her mind, but still preferred to meet and recall people the old fashioned way. Her upgrades were primarily designed to keep her alive, not turn her into a database.
“You worried about arrival day?” Allen guessed.
“I don’t know what to expect. I met Ulinthra in person. The reality that other people magically remember her is not what bothers me. It’s that, even without her breathing down their necks, they are still somehow doing their bidding.”
“It’s always been that way. Despite how much she pissed people off, they always did what she wanted.”
“Hold on,” Brooke said, “you knew her too.”
Allen nodded. “Back in the olden days. Richard and I had this plan to camp in every state in the country. We met her in South Carolina.”
“Forgive me,” Brooke said, “I thought you were standard human.”
“We are,” Allen began to explain. “The Overseer pulled us from our time period, and brought us here. She claims we were married to her in an alternate timeline.”
This gave Brooke pause. Leona was perhaps the most familiar with Ulinthra, having encountered her in multiple realities. When they were trying to defeat her years ago, Leona briefed the team on what they were up against. She had said something about Ulinthra marrying two men once, but didn’t bother mentioning their names. “I think she’s right. I think I heard about that.”
Allen had clearly hoped this was all a big misunderstanding, and didn’t like hearing more evidence that he had been married to a psycho.
Brooke shook her head to comfort him. “Things are different in different timelines. The way I understand it, she wasn’t nearly as bad in yours.” That wasn’t entirely true, but he didn’t need to know that.
Allen nodded, but didn’t seem to really believe that. “I better go start on my checklist. Let me know if you need anything.”
“I have my own checklist on the bridge, but before I go, just one more question. Is the Overseer going to send you back home after this? I just need to gauge what kind of person she is.”
“She’s good people,” Allen said. “She offered to take us anywhere, anywhen we wanted.” He took a deep breath. “Good luck with arrival. I wouldn’t want your job.”
“My job is easy. I wouldn’t want Ecrin’s.”

“Status report,” Brooke asked once she was on the bridge.
“On course, and on schedule.”
“Power levels nominal.”
“Weapons at the ready.”
“Crew status?” Brooke asked.
“Good to go.”
“Captain. Where’s the captain?”
The helmsman on duty jerked her head slightly towards the meeting room doors, like they were in mixed company, and she didn’t want anyone else to know.
Holly Blue was in there, sitting patiently at the head of the table, not doing anything else. Ecrin was pinching the bridge of her nose with both index fingers, the rest of her hand cupped around her mouth and nose. Her eyes were closed.
“Captain? Is something wrong?”
“Why am I here?” Ecrin asked of Brooke without moving.
“I don’t know, did we have a meeting?”
Ecrin opened her eyes, and released her hands. “In an hour, yes, but I mean in general. Why am I captain of this ship?”
“You’re a leader, aren’t you?”
“I was second-in-command at the IAC. Why isn’t Paige here, though, or Leona?”
“Well, Leona doesn’t exist right now, and Paige is gallivanting around some other time period.”
“I’m not equipped for this, Brooke.”
“You’ve been doing this for a month. You’ve been great,” Holly Blue pointed out.
“I’ve been captain of a passenger ship for the last month. We’re about to go into battle.”
“You don’t know that.”
“No one on Orcus and Vanth is going to be happy to see the Sharice,” Ecrin argued. “This isn’t going to go well, and people are going to get hurt, or die. Paige has done this before, can’t you contact her somehow?”
Brooke sat down. “Paige was the captain of a chaperone vessel, one that wasn’t capable of going into battle, and never tried. You’re what, twice as old as she is? And you have experience with police work. You’re the only one who can do this.”
“No, that’s not true,” Ecrin said. “I heard you in there, and I see you with the crew. They trust and respect you. And you have experience training a group of insurgents, and using them to defeat an enemy with superior firepower.”
“That may be true,” Brooke said, but I’m in a committed relationship to the ship. You’re the one responsible for the crew on it, and I need you to start taking that seriously. We will be arriving in Orcan space within two hours. You better get yourself ready. The first thing you should do is order Holly Blue to run last-minute diagnostics check on all electrical systems.”
“Yeah, go do that.”
Holly Blue just sat there like a stubborn child.
Ecrin looked back over when she realized Holly Blue wasn’t moving. “I said go run the diagnostics.”
Holly Blue stood swiftly. “Yes, sir.” She gave Brooke a secret wink as she was leaving the room.
Ecrin reached over and braced herself on the table to prepare for the day. “Thank you for this. I need to talk to Camden, though.”
“Can you?” Brooke asked. “Isn’t he dead?”
Ecrin flung open a knife, and pulled her pants down. Then she started cutting into her thigh—not even wincing at the pain—ultimately removing a small watch face protected in plastic from her flesh. She began to meticulously peel the plastic away. “Right now, for Camden, it’s the year 2000, but that’s always subject to change. We developed a recoil protocol, in case things go bad, and I need him. He called it Threat Level Midnight, which is a joke I didn’t get until several years later.” She began to adjust the watch’s time. “It’s not really meant for something like this, but it’ll do.” Once the time was set to midnight, she placed the watch on the floor. “I would like you to go now.”
“Okay,” Brooke agreed, though she was concerned. As she was leaving the room, she saw Ecrin lift her foot, and slam it down on the watch.
A couple hours later, Orcus was barely in view when another vessel appeared on their screens, warning them that there would be trouble if they didn’t adjust course, and go somewhere else. Captain Cabral ordered her crew to action stations, which was where most of them already were. A lot of them had significant training in their fields, but not all. Some of them had fallen into a life of war in the other timeline because it didn’t look like anyone else was doing it. With time having been reset, they lost all knowledge they gained from that, and had to relearn everything, if not more. Fortunately, space was a big and empty place, and they had a lot of waiting time before they could reach their destination anyway. While Brooke was busy getting to know her ship, and Ecrin busy getting to know her new people, others were just trying to learn their jobs. Personnel reports indicated that the majority of them were ready for action, but as said, there was no telling what they were walking into. No amount of training—be it practical or virtual—could prepare someone for the real thing. “Can we take it?” Ecrin asked the crew.
“We can,” the weapons officer stated. “They are an inferior enemy.”
This is your last warning,” the Orcan ship said again after receiving no response.
“If they want a warning, they’ll get it. One shot, ensign. Let’s give her a haircut.” Funny metaphors. The mainstay of any good ship captain.
The officer did as she was told, firing one missile that just grazed the outer hull of the other ship. It didn’t appeared to notice it. A few moments later, though it began to change.
“What’s it doing?” Ecrin asked.
“It’s getting bigger, sir.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s not,” Brooke said. “It’s emitting a hologram.”
The holographic image grew and grew, getting brighter by the second, until it resembled a small moon. To the naked eye, though, it just looked like a spot of light. “Sir, there are more,” the communications officer reported.
“More what?”
“More ships. Dozens, no hundreds. Shit, thousands! All around us! They must be darkbursters.”
“No, they’re darkstalkers. Mauve alert!” Ecrin ordered. The alarms rang out, and the purple rights blinked on and off. A darkburster—or in this case, a darkstalker—was a relatively small ship capable of traveling without being detected, but this was only possible by blinding the dark vessel as well. Until they reengaged their own sensors, they were basically just hunks of metal floating in space, and since they were painted black, they couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, unless they were real close. The moon hologram must have been a signal to attack, since that was the only way to communicate with a darkstalker.
All at once, the darkstalkers began to fire at the Sharice, from all directions. Ecrin ordered her crew to fire back, but the enemy ships were so small and spry that they were impossible to target. They would run out of ordnance long before they made any dent against their opponent. It soon didn’t matter, though, as the darkstalkers were targeting the Sharice’s weapons systems, crippling them in a matter of minutes. They had really practiced this. Either they knew someone would be coming after them, or they were just paranoid, and always prepared for it.
The mothership dropped its moon hologram, theoretically signalling the darkstalkers to cease their assault, which they did immediately. After a few anxious moments, it released something from its underbelly. Its exact shape was imperceptible to their instruments, but it wasn’t flying like a missile, because it was too slow. It almost looked like a boarding boat.
Brooke and Ecrin just watched it come towards them as everyone else was trying to get their weapons back online. That seemed unlikely without physical repairs on the outside.
Holly Blue burst onto the bridge. “I know what this is!”
“What?”
“Sir, permission to use the secret weapon?”
“What secret weapon?” Brooke questioned.
Ecrin didn’t answer Brooke. “It’s untested. No one has ever tried to make one at this scale before.”
Brooke wasn’t finished. “What! Weapon!”
“We have nothing to lose,” Ecrin said, still ignoring Brooke. “Do it,” she ordered.
Holly Blue nodded. She looked at the ceiling. “Computer. Execute program Kangaroo-Octopus-Laundry-Bachelor-Yearling Two-zero-two-eight!”
Brooke looked at the screen, which showed a platform rise from the bulkhead, and release a missile, presumably on a collision course with the boarding boat. “What does that thing do?”
“Plot for Orcus!” Holly Blue commanded the computer. “It’s like a giant teleporter bullet,” she said quieter.
The secret missile did collide with the boarding boat, except it must not have been a boarding boat at all. They zoomed in on Orcus on another screen. Just as the missile struck the enemy’s projectile, both of them disappeared. And then the entirety of Orcus disintegrated, and disappeared as well.
“What just happened?” Ecrin asked. “What was that thing?”
Brooke dropped her head, and sighed. “It was Lucius-bomb. We just killed thousands of people.”

Part III

Coming soon...

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