Exemption Act

The Needs of the Many

Confusingly named Saga!Three was sitting at the top of the stairs, waiting for her new partner, Zektene to get out of the bathroom. Zektene was from another universe, and came here after a trip to the past changed enough about history to stop her from ever existing. That was no longer her world, so she made this her new home.
“I’ve been thinking about your name!” Zek called out through the door.
“You don’t have to yell!” Saga!Three shouted back.
You’re yelling!”
“I’m just trying to match your energy!
Zektene laughed.
“What about my name?”
“We need some way to distinguish you from your alternate self.”
Saga!Three was also a time traveler, and was created when a different version of her named Saga!Two went back to help kill Adolf Hitler early. To avoid ambiguity, others began to address them by the number that was arbitrarily assigned to their reality. There were an infinite number of past realities, however, and this was in no way only the third, but the name was good enough. “That’s what the number is for.”
“It’s too impersonal!” Zek argued. “Who was that one gal you mentioned, who met her alternate self? She goes by her real name, while the other goes by their nickname?”
“Holly Blue and Weaver, yes. The former just never started using the nickname. You wanna start calling me Doorwalker?”
“No, that’s dumb. That’s why I wanna talk about it, so we can figure something else out.”
“I’m all ears.”
Zek came out of the bathroom. “How about Freya?”
“You have already thought about this.”
“Just a little. During my research, I learned that your name, Saga is associated with a goddess named Frigg. I don’t know what it means to be associated with a different person, but I don’t much care for Frigg. I do, however, like Freya, which is somehow associated with Frigg. I don’t know what that means for its relationship with Saga, but I think it suits you either way.”
“Fine with me. Freya it is,” the newly reborn Freya affirmed.
“Now, is that Freyja with a j, or just a y-a?” asked some stranger in their hotel room.
“Whoa! I’m sorry, but who are you?”
The stranger looked confused. “I...I’m Nadia.”
Freya continued to look confused and disturbed with her eyes, and widened her mouth like a smile to offer this Nadia person more time to elaborate.”
“You may have heard of The Historian...?”
“Oh. That’s you?” Freya asked. That’s Freya, with a y-a.
“Okay, I got it, Superintendent,” Nadia said with a roll of her eyes. Don’t you roll your eyes at me. “Oh, forgive me, Your Grace.” You are forgiven.
“Are you...speaking with The Superintendent right now?” Freya asked.
Nadia was writing in her book. “F-R-E-Y-A. What was that? Oh, yes, he’s being a di—uhhhhh...lightful supreme being. He’s being..great.”
“Why do you need her new name?” Zek asked, changing the subject back. “I mean, it’s cool you know, but for what specific purpose?”
“Um, she can’t just change her name, and expect everyone to start using it all of the sudden. When the Shapers go to a new time period, I have to manipulate reality to account for their new identities. When Lowell Benton changed Jeremy’s name from J.B., I had to update our records. Otherwise, he would have to start correcting people one-by-one, and that is so tedious. It’s much easier if I just send out a psychic blast. From now on, most of the people you run into who already knew you should now start using the new name. There may be a few glitches.”
“Well...” Freya began. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Nadia replied. “I’m also here for another reason. This belongs to you.” She handed Zek a business card. There was no writing on it, but it was covered in colors.
“What is this?” Zek asked.
“Rendezvous card,” Nadia said cryptically. “It’s up to you to figure out how to use it. Be at that location, and someone you’re supposed to meet will arrive as well.”
“Sounds like you’re not going to tell us who it is,” Freya presumed.
“I don’t know who it is. I just found it as a bookmark on your title page, and I know what it does. I couldn’t tell you if it’s a mission, or someone you’ve been looking for, or what, but someone has decided to put you two together, so go on and find out.”
“Thank you again,” Zek echoed.
Nadia softened her smile, and raised her hands in front of her stomach, pinkies together, palms up. She ceremoniously closed them together, as if shutting an invisible book, which served to fold her own body into a two-dimensional object, and make her disappear.
“This is a distraction,” Freya told Zek.
“We don’t know that.”
“We’re supposed to be looking for something called The Transit. That’s what Vearden said. That’s going to help us end this once and for all.”
“Have faith in the process, Freya. Now, I think I know how to work this thing. Hold onto my shoulder.”
“Okay,” Freya conceded.
Zek activated the rendezvous card by flicking it out of her hand, which transported them to some unknown location in the middle of the forest. They were alone, but not for long. Pretty soon, several spots before them started warping with technicolors. People emerged from these warp spots, and each one of them dropped their own rendezvous card into a pile in the middle of the circle. The last one was not human, but a large and imposing creature with ashy white skin. Freya knew this to be a Maramon.
This Maramon was the only one who didn’t look at least a bit bewildered. She scanned the group. “Thank you all for coming. I know you have no clue why you’re here, but I appreciate it greatly, and so does your universe.”
“What are you?” one of the others asked.
“I am a Maramon, from a dwarf universe called Ansutah. Please, ask no further questions while I explain myself. I will be answering the most important ones without prompting. My name is Khuweka Kadrioza, and even though I’m from Ansutah, I’ve been living in bladapodoverse for the last several years. It’s only there that I encountered humans who accepted my form. The fun was not destined to last, unfortunately, as a great danger came upon us; an enemy that threatens the very survival of everyone in the multiverse.”
“The Ochivari,” Freya blurted out. “Oh, sorry.”
“That’s right,” Khuweka confirmed, unperturbed by the interruption. “Saga is already fully aware of them, because this enemy originates from her universe.”
“Her name is Freya now,” Zektene corrected.
Khuweka tilted her head in thought. “Huh, you’re right. Apologies, Freya. Anyway, the Ochivari are an odd bunch. They were born with a limited ability to travel the multiverse. At first, they used this to build their empire at home, siphoning large amounts of resources from uninhabited worlds with barely a thought. Eventually, however, a sort of religion formed. They wouldn’t use that word for it, but it’s the best way to describe it, because it’s twisted and pervasive, like a cancer. Not everyone believes in the same thing, but they all serve the interests of Worlon, their home planet. Their basic tenet is that all evolved life must be destroyed. They’re antinatalists, which is ironic, because they propagate their own species to insane numbers. Normally, this would be terrible, but people like you wouldn’t get involved, because this is not your universe. But remember what I said, they travel to other universes, which is why you are all in danger, as are your people.
“Now, we could fight a war. We could build giant ships, and attack them. We could conscript the various machines and people who travel the bulkverse, but why do that when we can end it before it starts? I propose we go back to before the Ochivari are seeded on Worlon, and destroy them before they have the chance to do anything.”
The others had been listening intently, careful not to make any assumptions, or dismiss Khuweka’s concerns. They also seemed a lot more comfortable being around her than Freya would have guessed. Perhaps, though they had clearly never seen her kind before, they were used to the concept of other. A well-dressed middle aged woman took a quarter step forward. “Have you considered the ethics of this undertaking? When accounting for time travel, what you’re talking about could still be considered genocide.”
“No, I’ve not considered it much,” Khuweka responded. “That is your job, Professor. I will say, however, that this serves the greater good.”
A disheveled man raised his hand.
“Yes, Limerick?”
“Do I still get to punch somebody?” He assessed the group. “I can’t believe I’m here for any other reason than I’m good at punching people.”
Khuweka sighed and massaged her forehead. “You remember you’re in another universe, right?”
“Yeah, you said that,” Limerick replied.
“I don’t have the ability to do that myself. I got all these people here, because of you. You brought them here, so that’s what you bring to the table. You’re a bulkverse traveler, just like the Ochivari.”
He squinted at her, like the two of them were just trying to figure out which actor was in a particular movie, and even though she was obviously right, he couldn’t help but not believe her. “I don’t remember that.”
“Yes, I know,” an exasperated Khuweka said. “That’s what happens when totally shitfaced is your resting state. I need you to sober up, and get with the program. It’s time to be a big boy, and do something productive for a change.”
Limerick mockingly straightened up, and bounced his head all hoity-toity like. “We’ll see.”
“Well,” Khuweka continued, “you all now know Limerick Hawthorne. He’s right, if someone does need punching during this mission, he’ll be able to help with that as well. You also met Freya Einarsson, who is here because she is familiar with this universe, and the progression of the timelines. Her friend, Zektene Cormanu is a teleporter from the Composite Universe, which will come in handy, no doubt. Doctor Andraste Spellmeyer will act as our resident ethicist, because as she pointed out, what we’re doing here isn’t exactly the Middle Way. She is from Universe Prime, and she has never met an alien, or a time traveler, or anything before. Round of applause for how graceful and patient she’s being with us.”
They clap.
“Moving on, Carbrey Genovese is our engineer. He’s from Flipverse, and he’s going to build us a spaceship, and pilot it. Don’t worry, I’ll get you the specs for the reframe engine.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Carbrey said.
“Essentially faster-than-light travel, Freya filled him in.
“Oh, okay. Well, no promises, I’ve never built a spaceship before.”
“Wait,” Limerick jumped in. “You said he’s from Flipverse, and other people are from other places. Where am I from? What would you call it?”
“Most universes don’t get their own names,” Khuweka tried to explain delicately. “Yours is one of the many. You can call it Limerickverse, if you want.”
“I want.”
“If there are no further interruptions, I can introduce our last crew member.” Khuweka looked over at the humbly quiet man who had actually separated himself from the group by nearly a meter. “Do you want to step back into the circle?”
The man hesitated, but approached. “Hi, my name is Landis Tipton, and I’m from a universe called Voldisilaverse. I am a kenvoldisil, which means I was not born voldisil, but turned into one later when a group of them died, and transferred their abilities unto me.” He took a step back, apparently believing that was enough of an explanation.
Khuweka was trying to be patient with him. “Do you wanna tell us what abilities you have?”
Not really, but Landis didn’t care much for confrontation. “I can see your regrets, smell your health, hear your desires, feel your pain, and taste your lies.”
Limerick suddenly turned into a decent and put-together human being. “Right on, man.”
Khuweka smiled at Landis. “He can also reverse his abilities, using them primarily to cure people by breathing on them. He saved millions of lives one by one, and billions once they figured out how to replicate his healing ability.”
“I once knew people who could cure others by breathing on them,” Zektene said.
“Yes, by using organic nanotechnology. This is different. Voldisilaverse is unlike any I’ve ever heard of. My people are ruthless and unfeeling. They’ve never met a human they didn’t want to kill, except for the few they revere as gods. But when they discovered Landis’ version of Earth, something turned them away; not out of fear, but...respect, and maybe even empathy? Something made them not want to hurt his people.”
“We’re not all good,” Landis revealed, then slunk back away, immediately regretting having volunteered to speak.
“Well, at least two of you are,” Khuweka acknowledged. “Another voldisil is the one who contacted me. She can see things that are happening in other universes, and it was she who told me who belongs on this team. Now it’s up to all of us to prove her right.”

Necessary Evil

The new team continued talking, asking questions, and arguing. Freya was used to being conscripted for missions, and fighting for causes she didn’t know anything about. It was just part of her life, so even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to do this, it was no longer in her nature to try to get out of it. These other people had no such experiences. They were polite and careful, but didn’t just agree to this blindly. If there was one thing Freya learned about the Maramon, it was that they weren’t very cunning, and they did not play the long game. If one of them approached you, and asked for your help, they were probably—honestly—one of the good ones, and knew that you were good too. Good Maramon like Khuweka were rare, and seemed to only become that way after spending time with decent human beings, but they were not raised as such. They developed in a universe that was literally smaller than most, and suffered a lack of resources beyond most people’s conceptions. They were angry and spiteful, and they only ever showed potential for change on the individual level, when they were removed from society, and their people’s bizarre worldview.
As one might expect, the ethicist, Professor Spellmeyer was the hardest to convince, while Limerick was the easiest. He didn’t know anything about the Ochivari, but he deliberately chose to think of them as insects, rather than insectoids, which would make wiping them out less like genocide, and more like large scale pest control. The Ochivari were somehow dragonfly-based, but they were not dragonflies, and did not evolve from them. According to what little data people were able to gather on them, their skin looked like that of a bug’s, but it was not an exoskeleton, and they were shaped like humans, complete with arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Their wings were not useless, but they did not allow them to fly. They used them in battle, to blow gusts of winds at their opponent, or to dodge attacks. They were very fragile, however, and even though damaging one didn’t cause too terribly much pain for the victim, they weren’t likely to heal, and doing so did lessen any advantage they had.
Freya called all this the source variant, which was a term one of her friends coined to refer to a subspecies that developed on an alien planet. They originally came from human DNA, which was shipped across the galaxy, and seeded on other habitable worlds. So they came from humans, but each unique environment shaped each unique population in unique ways. By being exposed to a different atmospheric composition, being fed different foods, and possibly by interstellar radiation, their genetic make-up was transformed into something different; probably always humanoid, but rarely—if ever—passably human. Freya and Zektene spent time on a planet with two of these source variants. The Orothsew were human-based, and the Gondilak Maramon-based. It was kind of a coincidence that both parent species chose to seed life on the same planet, except it wasn’t that far-fetched, because there were a finite number of hospitable worlds available, and humans wanted to live everywhere they possibly could.
The Ochivari were created in the same way as the Orothsew, but on a second planet that they called Worlon. One of them came to Orolak once, intending to bring death and destruction to all inhabitants. When Freya and Zek left, the people they left behind were working on defending Orolak from this threat. The two of them made it their responsibility to go on the offense, so while they weren’t happy about the temporal genocide, it would accomplish what they set out do, and bonus, they weren’t going to have to do it alone.
The engineer, Carbrey was either massaging his eyes, or trying to pluck them out with his fingers. He was not being gentle, because this was stressing him out so much. “Let me get this straight. You want me to build a spaceship from scratch that can travel at superluminal speeds. We don’t have that on my Earth.” He was more concerned with the logistics than the ethics, which was fine because they probably needed a break from the intense debate.
“Well, you won’t have to build it from nothing,” Khuweka clarified. “The humans in this time period have interstellar ship technology today. They’re just lacking our speed requirements, which I will procure from The Shortlist. I just don’t want to take a preexisting ship, because we would have to steal it.”
“What is the Shortlist?” Limerick asked, interested in it because it sounded ominous and cool. Freya didn’t know either.
“The Shortlist is a group of incredibly bright and busy women who are responsible for time travel technology in this universe,” Khuweka explained. “Most of the galaxy is not allowed to have their technology, because it would screw things up. If we want the specifications of the reframe engine, we will have to put in a request to them. Or at least, we might. I’ll contact the inventor first. She may be able to sign off on it without a full council meeting.”
“Okay,” Zek said, “who is this inventor, and how do we get in touch with her?”
“Her name is Hokusai Gimura,” Khuweka revealed.
“Oh, we know her,” Freya realized. “She’s the one trying to protect Orolak from the Ochivari.”
“Yes,” Khuweka began. “While that won’t happen for another two thousand some odd years, I believe the Hokusai living on the Earth at the moment has already experienced that in her personal timeline. I’m not sure, though, so careful what you say.”
“She’s on Earth right now?” Zek asked.
“Yes,” Khuweka began, “living alone on the beach in a place formerly known as Dounreay, United Kingdom.”
“She’s alone?” Freya pressed. “Does she want visitors?”
“If she wants us to leave, we’ll leave, and if we have to do that, we’ll try to reach the Shortlist, and perhaps a younger Madam Gimura will be more agreeable. For now, Miss Cormanu, could you please teleport us to that location?”
“Dounreay?”
“Dounreay.”
“I can only take two by two,” Zek explained.
“That’s fine.
They made the trip halfway across the globe, and ended up on the shore of the North Atlantic Ocean. A little hut had been erected several meters away, really just large enough for one person; two, if they were fine being close to each other. Someone was lounging back in a chair on the approximation of a front porch. They approached, and found her to be Hokusai Gimura, but a much, much older version of her.
“Madam Gimura,” Khuweka greeted her. “My name is Khuweka Kadrioza. You may also call me Keynote, if you’d like.”
“Just set it over there,” the old Hokusai said, haphazardly pointing to the ground beside her.
“Set what over here?”
Hokusai finally turned to look at who she was talking to, tipping her sunglasses down to get a better view. “Oh, I thought you were a...never mind. What can I help you with?”
“We were hoping to procure the plans for the reframe engine. I’m sure you have reserva—” Khuweka interrupted herself when she noticed Hokusai tapping on her wristband. “Umm...”
A flashcard popped out of the wristband. Hokusai sighed as she removed the card from its slot, and dropped it into Khuweka’s hand. “There ya go.”
“You don’t wanna know what we’re gonna use it for? I have this whole speech about necessary evil.”
“I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m tired.”
“We’re sorry to have bothered you,” Freya jumped in.
Now Hokusai perked up. “Madam Einarsson?”
“Miss,” Freya corrected. “Never married.”
“Oh, you’re the other one, that’s right. Anywho, I have a very busy day of not engineering any inventions. You may stay if it strikes your fancy, but when the sunglasses go on, the mouth goes off, ya dig?”
Khuweka carefully dropped the flashcard into Carbrey’s hand, like it was radioactive. “Maybe someday. You take care of yourself, Madam Gimura.”
Hokusai just nodded her head. She must have been through a lot since Freya last saw her. Time travel will do that to you, and who knew who she lost along the way? Her wife, Loa was conspicuously missing.
“We’ll be on this planet for the next two years or so,” Freya told her after the rest of the group had started walking back down the beach, even though they could teleport from anywhere. “I don’t have a phone number or anything, though...”
“I won’t need anything,” Hokusai promised. “Thanks for the sentiment.”
Freya just kept watching her with a sad panda face, even as Zektene started transporting the team back to home base.
“Really, I’m fine. Don’t you worry about me. Just kill those dragonfly mother fuckers. Kill them all.” So she already knew.
Zek offered to leave Freya there, so she could have a deeper conversation with Hokusai, but they all knew that wasn’t what Hokusai wanted. They just went back to where they were, an underground facility in what was once called Kansas.
They watched as Carbrey inserted the flashcard into the reader, and opened up the files. It took him a moment to get used to the system. Different universe, different way to use computers. He picked it up pretty quickly, and started looking over the data that Hokusai had given them. “Hmm.”
“What?” Khuweka asked.
“No, it’s just...it’s an interesting way to look at faster-than-light travel. I mean it’s just warp speed, but the math works out a lot easier this way. Anyone with a second-level higher degree would be able to decipher this, except...”
“Except what?” Limerick asked.
“I don’t know what this thing is.” Carbrey pointed at the screen.
“Oh, that’s the cylicone,” Khuweka started to explain. “Vital to any time tech. It’s what makes it work, and why a post-grad has no chance of stumbling upon the secret.”
“People aren’t allowed to know about this?” Carbrey questioned.
“Time travelers only,” Freya answered.
“For now,” Khuweka added cryptically. “Can you do it? This world has nanotechnology and ninety-nine automation. All you need to do is make sure everything runs smoothly. Two years should be no problem, but if we don’t make that goal, we really will have to go back in time. I don’t want that seed plate landing on Worlon, and so much as starting to create the Ochivari.”
Carbrey took in a breath, and looked back at the data. “I don’t know how your tech works, so there will be a learning curve. I can’t promise two years just because of that. I’ll go as fast as I can, though.”
“I think you can do it,” Khuweka said confidently. “Like I said, it’s all automated. Spaceships aren’t run by pilots, or even astronauts. They’re run by AI, regulated by engineers, like yourself.”
“All right,” Carbrey said. He went back to the computer.
“What are we going to do for the next two years?” Limerick asked as the group was stepping away to give their engineer some space.
“Hopefully we’ll be discussing this matter further,” Andraste recommended. “It’s fine he starts working on that thing, but we are nowhere near done yet.”
Khuweka was trying very hard not to roll her eyes. “Very well, Professor Spellmeyer. Let’s do an exercise called Devil’s Advocate. Professor, since you’re so adamantly opposed to this idea—”
“That’s not what I’m doing here,” Andraste argued.
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not opposed to the idea,” Andraste continued. “I just want to make sure you’ve considered the ramifications of your choices. Ethicists don’t take sides. We provide facts, or provide ways of determining facts.”
“Well, is anyone actually opposed?” Khuweka opened up the floor. “The Devil’s Advocate exercise only works when someone wants to do it, and someone doesn’t, so they can switch places, and argue each other’s position.” She waited for someone to say something, but everything they had heard about the Ochivari, and what they had done, had seemed to erase any true reservations they had. Andraste would probably always be wary—as would peaceable healer, Landis—even after the mission was over, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to go through with it. “Okay,” Khuweka said with an air of finality. “We will continue to refine our methods, and contemplate the ethics, but I think it’s time we agree that this is happening, in one form or another. For now, let me introduce you to this fun little game I found out about called RPS-1o1 Plus.”

The Ends Justify the Means

Carbrey spent about a month studying this universe’s technology, so he would understand how it worked before he even thought about engineering something real. He picked it up pretty quickly seeing as the tech wasn’t too dissimilar to what he was used to, but he said he would rather be safe than sorry. The laws of physics, he claimed, were exactly the same, so that was nice. The facility they were staying in was mostly a gigantic underground hangar, with a few other rooms attached to it. They each had their own place to sleep, but it was nothing fancy. This place was obviously not designed for boarding. Freya wondered what they once kept in here, and why it was abandoned. While they were relatively close to the nearest population center in Kansas City, Khuweka assured them that no regular human would show up. A few temporal manipulators were aware of it, but none had much reason to use it in this particular time period. There appeared to be at least one, though. They were eating lunch together in the middle of the hangar when a ceiling suddenly appeared above their heads, starting from a single point, and then extending outwards. Of course, there already was a ceiling, but it was many stories above them. This one was only a few stories up, and while that was more than enough room to clear their heads, the force of its abrupt arrival knocked them all to the floor.
“What the hell just happened?” Limerick asked as he was sitting up and massaging his head.
“I don’t know,” Khuweka said honestly. She had been thrown down as well, but Maramon were physically superior to humans, so she wasn’t hurt at all.
Andraste, on the other hand, was very hurt. Blood was seeping out of the back of her head, and spreading out on the floor. Her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t moving. When Landis saw this, he started crawling towards her. His wing appeared to be hurt as well, perhaps broken, but he knew that Andraste was priority. He took a deep breath, and exhaled over Andraste’s body. “Injuries heal faster than terminal diseases,” he explained, “but it will still be a few minutes.”
“What if she’s dead already?” Zektene asked. “I don’t mean to be negative, but can you cure death?”
“Death is a process,” Landis answered. “It doesn’t happen in one moment. I can’t go digging up graves, but if she died, it was quite recent, so it should be fine. She will not have even experienced permanent brain damage, which is the one thing I cannot repair.”
“Khuweka,” Carbrey began, “what is that thing?”
“I think it’s a ship,” Limerick assumed right.
“Zek,” Khuweka said, “could you take Mister Genovese to investigate? Jump back here at the first sign of trouble.”
“Okay,” Zek replied. She took Carbrey by the hand, and teleported away.
A minute later, Andraste sat up, and checked the back of her head, not out of pain, but because it was still wet with her blood. “What happened?”
They told her.
“Do you feel okay?” Freya asked.
“I feel great,” she answered. She started opening and closing her hands. “I think my arthritis is gone.”
“Yes,” Landis said. “I’m a holistic healer. I couldn’t cure only one disease or injury if I wanted. It’s all or nothing.”
“We should all get treated,” Limerick suggested excitedly. “I know my liver could use a little TLC. You guys know what that acronym means?”
“Yes,” they replied in unison.
Five minutes later, Zek and Carbrey reappeared before them. “It’s an interplanetary warship called The Sharice Davids.”
They all looked to Freya. “I’ve never heard of it. Sorry.”
“Is there anyone in it?” Khuweka asked.
“Totally empty,” Zek said.
“Based on what little of the system I saw,” Carbrey started to say, “an emergency escape maneuver recently completed its sequence. It was traveling all throughout time and space, spending only seconds at any one point, evidently so no one would have time to board it. It had to stop eventually, though. This last jump depleted it of all its power, except for what little was able to eke out in order for me to get this information, but then it died completely.”
Limerick was staring up at the bottom of the vessel admiringly. “We should keep it.”
“It isn’t ours,” Khuweka argued.
“Why did you choose this hangar?”
“Because no one else was using it.”
“No one else is using this ship either.”
“You don’t know when they’ll be coming back,” she contended. She turned to face Freya. “It is your job on this team to know these things, or find out. Please make some inquiries for us. Meanwhile, Carbrey, power up some of the internal systems, just to gather more information. We’ll only refuel if we all decide we’re allowed to.”
“How do I...?” Freya began to ask, but thought better of it. She was right, this was her job. She had to figure this out herself, or she should just quit. Out of everyone here, she was the most dedicated to the cause. Not even Zek totally wanted to be here. She mostly joined the mission in the first place because she didn’t want Freya to be alone. “I’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll go with you,” Zek offered for the upteenth time.
“Good, because I need a ride to Giza.”
They teleported to the benbenet of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was invisible to all who did not know it was still there. A man was standing before them. “Stargazer,” Freya began, “you once told me that you owed me a favor, even though I had done nothing for you.”
“Not you, per se,” Stargazer corrected. “I consider alternates to be equals. Another version of Saga helped, and I honor that.”
“But if you do me a favor, am I not taking it from her?”
“You are not. What can I help you with?”
“We need to find someone familiar with advanced temporal technology, specifically in regards to a spaceship,” Zek said.
“This is my friend, Zektene Cormanu,” Freya explained. Stargazer was polite and accommodating, but wary of strangers. “She’s cool.”
He nodded with his eyes closed, then turned to Zek. “What time period?”
“This one, I think,” Zek answered. “It’s called The Sharice Davids.”
Stargazer was taken aback. “That should not be here in this moment. You must take it away. It is too dangerous. The future depends on no one else ever finding out it survived. I didn’t even know, and must now have my memories erased once you leave to protect it.”
“We’re sorry,” Freya said with a frown.
“No, it’s quite all right. It’s good that you came to me, since I know what to do with this information.”
“It’s only an interplanetary ship,” Zek pointed out. “Where could we possibly hide it?”
He shook his head. “It was designed to protect against external threats to the solar system, but it eventually became outdated, and time travelers later retrofitted it with interstellar capabilities. It was destroyed before reaching its first exoplanet, so if it was put back together, it means some very powerful people came back to reclaim it for themselves. You cannot let that happen, so you cannot trust anyone.”
Freya looked for answers in the layer of sand on the floor. “There might be a way to get rid of it.”
“Tell me nothing,” Stargazer warned before she could continue. “I’m happy to erase my memories, but the less I ever knew, the safer the information will be.”
“Understood,” Zek said. “But just to be clear, there is no one in this timeline who deserves this? Does it not belong to someone else?”
“It does,” Stargazer confirmed, “but it is best that they also believe it was destroyed. The knowledge should not go further than you two.”
They winced.
“You’re not the only two, are you?”
Freya straightened up, and put on her poker face. “I will tell you nothing. No comment.”
He smiled. “Good. Carry on.”
They returned to the hangar, but no one was there. A hatch was open on the bottom of the Sharice, suggesting that everyone made their way into it while they were gone. Zek transported Freya up to the bridge, and then began sweeping the corridors using a series of rapid jumps. A minute later, she returned to ferry Freya to the group. They were in an auxiliary control room, which Carbrey said was where the emergency temporal displacement drive was housed. Based on its remoteness and lack of signage, he guessed that very few people were made aware that this TDD existed. Freya and Zek relayed what they had learned from Stargazer, and it seemed to mesh well with what Carbrey was able to learn from the computers.
“So, not only can we take it, but we actually should?” Limerick was happy to hear this.
“I’m not sure that’s true,” Khuweka disagreed. “Stargazer wants us to get this thing out of the timeline, and the safest way to do that is by sending it to some other universe. That’s not something we can do, and even if we could, we need a ship to get to Worlon first, and this can’t do that if it’s supposed to remain a secret.”
“Aren’t we going to Worlon before anyone else arrives?” Andraste reminded her. “We should be able to keep it secret until the mission is over. Perhaps this is fate. It certainly came at the opportune time. Mr. Genovese was just about to start building us a new one, and now he doesn’t have to.”
“It’s not that simple,” Carbrey said, pulling himself away from the screen. “I was working on a minimalist design. It would incorporate the reframe engine, but it was otherwise only large enough to accommodate the seven of us. This thing is far more than we need, and I don’t think it has a reframe engine.”
“We don’t need it if we can travel through time,” Limerick noted.
Carbrey shook his head. “The TDD is gone. It was only ever meant to be activated once, and as it was sending the ship to this last location, it evidently self-destructed somewhere else in time. The logs called it a...” he squirted at the screen, and rediscovered what he read before, “Lucius last resort. Whatever that means.”
Something was distracting Freya from the conversation. “Landis, are you still hurt? Can’t you heal yourself.”
“I can’t,” Landis answered. “I cannot heal myself. After I got my foundation going, my security detail was composed of hundreds of people.”
“Anyway. I think we’re destined to use it.” Limerick was so sure of himself. “Build the reframe engine thing, put it in here, and let’s get on with it. I know it’s not easy, but you still have two years.”
“That doesn’t help us with the real problem,” Khuweka reminded him. “Once we destroy the Ochivari, someone would have to take the ship to the Triangulum galaxy, or something. I’m not sure anywhere is safe, not when considering time travelers.”
“I thought you said I could travel to other universes,” Limerick said.
“Yeah, you can, and other people can follow you through. You can’t create a shatter portal large enough for a spaceship, and even if you could, you can’t breathe in outer space. You would have to be outside the ship to make it happen. Look, the Sharice came back here for a reason. It believes this is the safest place for it. I say Carbrey builds us what he was going to all along, and we just leave it alone.”
“I can’t accept that,” Limerick fought. This is a warship, and we’re in a war. And who knows, maybe our mission will change enough about the future to stop these evil future people from even existing? I say the ends justify the means.”
“I agree with him,” Freya finally said. They looked at her, a little shocked, but not completely surprised. They knew she was all gung ho about killing the Ochivari, but she was also quite protective of her universe, and if keeping this ship around put it in danger, was that worth the risk? As they were arguing, she was working through that conundrum in her head, and ultimately decided that yes, it was. “We don’t know what we’re going to encounter out there, and this is our best shot at surviving. If we don’t succeed, we can use this in the war, and we’ll always keep it far enough away from whoever is trying to steal it. I don’t know how we’ll actually get the damn thing to another universe, but that’s not our problem at the moment. Let’s stop the Ochivari, then worry about that later. Hell, we might even find a solution on Worlon. We still don’t know how it is they were born with the ability to bulkverse travel. Perhaps it has something to do with their home planet. We can take whatever that is for ourselves.”
“I think it’s too dangerous,” Khuweka said, shaking her head slowly. “But I am nothing if not a fair leader. I will concede to whatever the group decides.”
They continued discussing, letting Andraste moderate the debate. In the end, they decided to use the Sharice Davids towards their own goals. At least if they always had it with them, they could control other people’s cognizance of it. They figured it was better than just leaving it here, and hoping that no one happened to show up.

Part IV

Coming soon...

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