Azura and the Transit Army (Part I)

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Azura of Ansutah ran towards the crowd that was forming to overwhelm her ward, Treasure, Treasure’s bodyguard, Quino, and the native historian whose name she couldn’t recall at the moment. Before she could get close enough to help, Treasure screamed, and disappeared. She was a natural-born bulk traveler, who could travel to any nearby parallel universe, and as the only one here who was able to power the Transit, her disappearance came as a great loss. Azura looked around in case Treasure came back. Bulk travel inherently meant time travel, and there was no reason why she couldn’t spend countless years elsewhere, and still return to this very moment. But she didn’t, and she might never. Azura and her new makeshift crew might have to get out of this predicament on their own. Before the bewildered mob found her too, she ran off, and ran back to her spacetrain.
The man who was quickly becoming her second in command greeted her at the entrance. “Where are they?” Kaolin questioned.
“They’re gone. She screamed,” Azura answered.
“We thought we heard that.”
“Yeah.” She walked past him, and headed down the car.
“Well, is she coming back?”
“Doesn’t look like it,” she answered.
“How the hell are we gonna get out of here?”
They had power, they just had no way to escape this brane, and travel to another. This thing was built with the ability to process the bulk energy required to perform the operation, but it was intentionally stripped of some vital components, by someone who didn’t want the machine to fall into the wrong hands. It was not yet clear whether theirs were the right hands, but they were the only ones here at the moment. Azura reached for the nearest intercom. “Harbinger crew of the Transit, and founding members of the Transit Army, we are trapped in this brane. Our power source was forced to flee a potentially deadly situation without us. We have to move on under the assumption that she will never return. Her destiny is taking her on a different vector. But all is not lost. The engineers have been working on a contingency. They’ll need a little time to complete diagnostics, I believe, but we will get out of here...eventually. For now, please pilot us off of this planet. I at least want to get away from the natives. Once we’re in space, I’ll lead an official briefing for details. Thank you.” She hung up.
“What’s the contingency?” Kaolin asked.
Azura took a breath. “Time,” was all she said.
As explained, the Transit wasn’t designed to need Treasure Hawthorne in order to work. But without all those missing parts, it was not capable of accumulating enough energy to make even one trip in any reasonable amount of time. Fortunately, time was relative, and they had untold amounts of it, as long as they took precautions. The crew was placed in stasis while the ship wandered through space. Bulk energy was constantly popping into existence out of nowhere. This was, in fact, what explained the persistent expansion of the universe. With the right equipment, the energy released during these infinitesimally small events could be harnessed and stored.
After thousands of years of waiting, which only felt like seconds to everyone who was asleep, they finally had enough to make one jump. They had to make it count. Unfortunately, they had already exhausted their two best prospects for some real sustainable power. She was going to have to resort to the third. She got back on the horn to make another announcement. Most of the crew was in the same car as her already. “As you’ve already learned, I am a hybrid, made of human DNA, as well as Maramon. It explains why my skin is so pale, but real Maramon aren’t just pale, they’re white. They’re very white. The majority of my traits from that side of the experiment are internal, such as my physical resilience, and virtual immortality. The only Maramon I’ve personally met already knew what I was, for they were part of the program that genetically engineered me and my brothers and sisters. So I’m not sure whether a regular Maramon would recognize what I am, nor what that would mean for their impression of me. They may treat me as one of their own, or an abomination, or anything in between.
“My creators provided me with certain data regarding my world’s history, as well as their adventures throughout the bulkverse, but I don’t have the coordinates for every single brane they’ve ever recorded. I really only have one left, and it’s populated by Maramon. Their mission was to log new worlds, and move on, so the best one could be chosen for future settlement, but they decided to just take it for themselves. This is a last ditch resort. Our one fusion reactor that we stole has helped, but it is not enough. The time we spent on stasis will help us at least escape this universe, but we won’t be able to go anywhere else. Providence might not help us, and they may take the Transit for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s our only option. Anyone who wants to take their chances where we already are may leave in one of the pump shuttles that we discovered. For those of you who don’t know, they run on bulk energy too. It’s not enough to pierce the membrane, but it can jump to just about anywhere in the universe near-instantaneously. We’ll be crossing over to Providenciaverse soon, so if you’re leaving, let me know now.”
No one left, so Azura ordered that they use the last of their main power reserves to cycle up to lightspeed and pierce the membrane. The way the Transit was designed, it should be able to refuel while in the outer bulk by absorbing bulk energy through specialized ramscoops. Unfortunately, most of these were removed by the man who originally stole the machine. They either needed to be replaced eventually, or they would keep having to find other sources of power from the likes of the people they were on the way to see now. The journey this time took two weeks to reach their destination. To avoid being detected—at least right away—they entered the brane far from where Azura predicted the Maramon would have settled the solar system. She planned on going the rest of the way on one of the pump shuttles. These were large enough for a passenger load of around 24 people, but that number would shrink with gear, and other equipment, depending on the mission. The interior could be reconfigured as needed. She was intending to go on the away mission herself, but that was not possible. They found themselves coming through right next to a local ship. It was only about 40,000 kilometers away; more than close enough to be picked up on sensors.
They reached out immediately. “Unidentified operator of the Transit, this is the Providence Mining Explorer Denojuge, please respond.
Azura cleared her throat. “PME Denojuge, this is Azura of the First Transit Army. We’ve come seeking power sources. Our siphon array was removed, so we require alternatives. Anything you have would be quite helpful. We’re not here to cause trouble. I was genetically engineered and raised by a secret sect of Maramon who were originally formed to protect your location from the general population, and the government. Whether you help us or not, we will not betray that directive.”
Relax, half-breed, we’re not worried about being discovered anymore.” Half-breed. They knew who she was. “Prepare to be boarded peaceably.
“Do we do that?” Kaolin questioned. “Do we accept them?”
“We’re stuck here,” Azura began. “Waiting in stasis for thousands of years isn’t going to work this time. They know how to find us, and they will find us eventually if we try to run. Yes, we do this peaceably, like she said.”
They synced flight paths, then the Denojuge connected to the docking car. It was no surprise that they used compatible technologies, since the Providentials originally came here through the Crossover, which was designed by the same team as the Transit. Captain Ouheliydi led a boarding party in, and down the cars to meet Azura and her people halfway. She nodded at them respectfully. “We hear great things of the Transit Army. I must say, there are fewer of you than we imagined.”
“This marks the beginning of it,” Azura explained. “We’ve not yet recruited.”
“We guessed as much,” Ouheliydi said. “Obviously, you find some way to repair this thing, or you would not become multiversal legends in your future.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Azura agreed.
Ouheliydi sized up the first members of the army. “Verteans. The records do not explicitly state that they were the first, but the implication is that they were from the Biverse. I suppose it’s half true. Anyway, we have what you need.” She snapped her fingers at a masked soldier behind her. He handed Azura a metallic cylinder.
It proved to be heavier than Azura expected. She was stronger than the average human, but since her outside had to appear fully human in order to blend in, she couldn’t be as strong as a full Maramon. She had not seen anyone on that side of her ancestry in a long time, and forgot how much stronger they were.
“Apologies,” Ouheliydi said. “We forget how much weaker you are.”
“I understand,” Azura said as Kaolin was helping her stand up straight. She was capable of holding it on her own, but she had him open it for her. Inside was one of the longest coils in the multiverse. It had to be in order to taper down from a millimeter to an angstrom. “An atomic lance.”
Ouheliydi smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“We appreciate the sentiment,” Azura replied, “however most of our lances are functioning within normal parameters. It’s our aether siphon array that is missing.”
“Yes, well,” Ouheliydi began, “my people are strong, but not that strong. We have that for you as well, but automators will have to affix it to the front for us. It’s being couriered from the inner system as we speak.”
Azura narrowed her eyes, and looked down at the lance coil. “How much is this going to cost us?”
Ouheliydi smiled again. “Three cars.”
“We can’t remove three cars from the Transit,” Azura contended. “We need them. As you know, this machine is paramount in the war against the Ochivari.”
“You misunderstand,” Ouheliydi said. “We’re not asking for you to remove them. We’re asking for you to integrate a team of elites into the three cars. We’re asking to join the war as your first recruits.”
Azura was surprised by this. Obviously the whole point was to recruit for the impending war, but she had spent all this time just trying to get the Transit to work in the first place that she hadn’t been able to devote any bandwidth to that aspect. Who would she ask to join, how would she know who might agree to it, and how was she going to find them? She was able to travel to the last few universes because she had specifically memorized their locations. She wasn’t even supposed to do this, but every day while growing up, once she was finished with her studies, she would take it upon herself to conduct some unauthorized independent research. She could also get to the other universes that her brothers and sisters were dispatched to, but only one other beyond that. Probably her first stop once this machine was fully operational would be to Treasure’s universe, where a woman lived who could help them. She was not planning to recruit anyone until then. But if this was the price, could she say no? “I don’t know about this. Yes, I’ll need an army, but... Hold on, I need to ask, do you know who Thack Natalie Collins is?”
“No,” Ouheliydi answered.
“She’s a psychic who can witness events throughout the bulk. She could be listening to this conversation right now. If I’m going to do this; if I’m going to build this army, I need to be in her good graces, and she may have her own recruitment plans, which may or may not include you. I honestly don’t know, but I don’t want to upset her before I even meet her. You understand.”
Ouheliydi nodded. “No recruitment, no aether siphons. That’s the deal. This is not a negotiation. Why do you think we have this technology? We chose to stay in this universe, and let our brethren take the Crossover back on mission. We’ve never seen the Transit before. We don’t use bulk energy to power our ships. So why did we build them? For you. We didn’t know that you would be coming. We didn’t know that it would be you specifically. But we hoped, and we’ve been preparing for decades. The Ochivari already came here, and we fought them off, but we suffered losses. The only thing we regret now is not getting a single Providential out of here during the Ochivari’s retreat, who could have sought further retaliation for us. We probably want blood more than you. We’re not letting you go without us, so you have to decide whether this Thack lady is more important to you than skilled fighters. I may not know much about what’s out there, but I know that she’s not the only person who can help you recruit. Statistics don’t allow it. But there is no one like our elites. No one. They have been training for this for their whole lives, I don’t know if you know this, but we’re not immortal here. The proper physics forced our ancestors to give it up. We die of old age, just like humans. So time is valuable, and we’re not going to waste it like our ancestors’ ancestors did.”
Azura sighed and looked back at her own crew. None of them appeared to be against this idea, though to be fair, the only Maramon they had ever encountered before was herself, and she was only half. The Ochivari were the true bulkverse enemies, but make no mistake, Maramon could not be trusted either. That was why she ignored her initial mission, and tried to live her best life in Universum Originalis. Still, this was an impenetrable ultimatum. They were at these people’s mercy. But maybe she had one card to play. Maybe this was a negotiation. “One car.”
Azura nodded with a sigh. “Two.” She reached out for a handshake to seal the deal. “Welcome to the Transit Army.”
Ouheliydi reached back and shook it as she laughed. “No. You...welcome to the Transit Army.”

The Hawthorne Family (Part II)

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Limerick started to run up the stairs, hoping to get to his family in time. Some kind of weird giant train thing had just appeared out of nowhere, and was sliding down the road. People didn’t really use roads anymore, not for driving anywhere, but they were still there, and necessary bridges between two places that people needed to walk to. He couldn’t tell if anyone was hurt, but his only concern right now was his wife and daughter. He met them on the landing, and his heart jumped back up to where it belonged in his chest. Once he caught his breath, he said, “go back up to the panic room. I’ll figure out what’s going on here.”
“I know what’s going on,” Treasure explained. She didn’t say it out loud. Instead, her voice was coming through a silver tiara on her head that he had never seen before. “That’s the Transit. Azura has come back for me.”
Limerick’s eyes darted over to Freya, who shook her head, having not yet heard the story either.
Treasure sighed. “I’ve been traveling...without you. I spent weeks in multiple branes, and I’ll explain later, but right now, I have to go meet my friend.”
Limerick shook his head. “If that thing is from another brane, then it can travel through time, and literally anyone could be in there. It could be your friend, or it could be your enemy. It could be a fictional character from your favorite movie. You just don’t know. You’re not going anywhere.”
“I’m an adult now, you can’t stop me.” Treasure started to pass her father.
“You turned eighteen already?” Freya questioned. “You said you had been gone for weeks.”
“Maturity isn’t just a number, mother. I’ve seen some shit. That’s why I’m an adult. Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
“Why are you talking like that? Why don’t you move your lips?”
Treasure was growing ever frustrated and impatient. “I either don’t move my lips, or I cut myself. Which would you prefer?” She started to hop down to the first floor.
“Why would those ever be the only two options?” Freya shouted to her.
“Why isn’t she wearing her necklace anymore?” Limerick questioned.
“Haven’t you heard?” Freya popped back as she was following her daughter. “She’s seen some shit now.”
The three of them went outside. Limerick tried to walk between Treasure and this giant spacetrain thing, but she was confident, and completely unworried. A woman stepped out from the second car from the front, and looked around. “Azura!” Treasure cried, louder than expected. She was amplifying her voice using the tiara thing.
Azura started jogging down the ramp. “Treasure! You found your way home!”
“It wasn’t easy,” Treasure admitted. “We didn’t come straight here.” They took each other into a hug.
Azura could clearly see that Treasure’s parents were not happy. “Mister Hawthorne and Madam Einarsson—”
“Missus Hawthorne,” Freya corrected, “and I suppose you can just call me Freya.” She took her husband’s name when they married to further distinguish herself from her alternate, Saga Einarsson.
“Limerick.” He shook the stranger’s hand while his wife did not. “You came in pretty fast. Did you hurt anyone on your way through?”
“Dad,” Treasure scolded.
“It’s a valid concern,” Azura admitted. “No, sir, we did not. The Transit is designed to seek out the closest entry point to the given coordinates that is unimpeded. An impediment can mean an empty car on the road, or a tent full of party people.”
“What exactly is your relationship with my daughter?” Limerick went on.
“Dad!” Treasure repeated herself with far more indignation this time.
The nearest portal trees suddenly began to shake. “That’s probably the government. Do not resist. They are more powerful than you may imagine.”
“We come in peace,” Azura insisted.
Several people came through the portal, four of them being a security contingency. They maintained a circle around the others, keeping their heads on swivels, but paying special attention to the Transit. One of the others was Treasure’s teacher, Thack Natalie Collins, and another was the Principal Guide, who was the leader of the entire world. Limerick did not recognize the third person. The fourth was the Treewalker, who kept his distance behind everyone. Principal Guide Rao brushed her guard away when he tried to stay between her and the Transit, much in the way that Limerick had tried with his own charge. “Azura of Ansutah, my name is Principal Guide Usha Rao. Allow me to be the first to officially welcome you to Voldisilaverse. Before we proceed, please understand that we have rules here. You will keep your onboard weaponry deactivated at all times. You will keep all of your mobile weapons inside the Transit walls at all times. All shore leave requests must be approved by my office. Fighters will not be allowed to congregate in groups more than two, but crewmembers will be allowed to group in fours.”
“I understand, and accept your terms,” Azura said, then shrunk a bit in embarrassment when she realized that the Usha wasn’t finished yet.
Usha didn’t flinch. “Furthermore, one guard will be posted next to each car of the Transit, on each side, and one will be posted on top of it, for a total of three local guards per car. A number at my discretion will be allowed into the Transit to monitor activity. They will stay out of your way, but this is not negotiable. I will also need a full manifest of your current crew and army, as well as obviously your intentions on my world. Do you accept all of these terms in full?”
“I do,” Azura replied without hesitation.
“Very well,” Usha said. “Please return to await the security detail. You will be alerted when it’s time for our debrief and negotiations.”
“Thank you, sir.” Azura went back towards the machine.
“No,” Miss Collins said when Treasure tried to follow.
“But I—”
“I know,” Miss Collins interrupted. “And the answer is no. Your debrief begins right now.”
“Don’t you already know what I went through?” Treasure figured. “Weren’t you watching me the whole time?”
Miss Collins took some time to respond. “For your protection...no.” She turned around to head back to the portal trees, followed closely by the Treewalker. “Come along, dear,” Miss Collins urged. “You may come as well, mom and dad.”
The Hawthornes stepped into the portal, and exited on the other side of the country, where Miss Collins lived and worked. They continued in silence, into her work building, and up to her office. Treasure went out to the computer lab down the hall to retrieve a chair for herself while her parents sat down in the two that were already there.
Miss Collins took a breath. “I have been watching over your daughter for her entire life. I’ve been there for your whole family, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Absolutely,” Limerick said.
“Yes,” Freya concurred quickly.
“As you know, I can witness events on any of the nearest branes to ours, and that comes with a heavy weight of responsibility. I have never been able to give Treasure my undivided attention, so she is lucky to have two amazing caregivers to pick up the slack in that regard. You might not want to hear it, but your little girl is all grown up now, and it’s time for her to make her own way. She was never going to wait until she turned eighteen. I could see that, even though I can’t watch events in this universe unless I’m standing right there. I think you knew it too. She is an Einarsson, who is patient, thoughtful, and careful. But she’s also her father’s daughter. That makes her impatient, reckless, and unpredictable. You, I, and her other teachers, have all done what we can to teach her to be a good person, and as a lifelong learner myself, I don’t believe that ever ends, but at a certain point, your personality is kind of locked in.
“She is an amazing young woman, destined to do great things throughout the entire bulk. Whatever she just experienced during her first solo mission was a test that she gave herself, and only she can tell us whether she passed. So, how about it, Treasure? What was your score?”
Treasure squirmed in her chair. “I dunno...” She cleared her throat, even though she wasn’t using it to speak. She tried to look away, but Miss Collins didn’t allow that when they were having a conversation. “Can’t you just look at what happened now?”
“No. I must be careful about what I see, and when I see it. My spirit ability is a constant threat to the continuity of time. We wouldn’t want a paradox to destroy the multiverse, would we? I’ve taught you that.”
Treasure stood up to pace around the room a little, gathering her thoughts.
“I got shot.”
“What!?” Limerick and Freya exclaimed simultaneously.
“Let me finish,” Treasure requested. “When I screamed, I went to Azura’s universe. Well, it wasn’t her homeworld. She’s from Ansutah. She’s half-human, half-Maramon. At any rate, the space station where she was working was attacked, and I was caught in the crossfire. They shot me in the neck, and Azura pulled me to safety. She was trying to save her one escape route for later, but she used it to save me. I managed to illustrate that I needed to go to Salmonverse for help, and that’s how we ended up finding the Transit. A bunch of the attackers accidentally came with us. She fought them off single-handedly, and then patched me up. Over time, while we were all stuck there together, we grew close, and worked hard to figure out how to get out of there. We started to go to other universes, asking for help with power sources. It did not always go well, but I survived. I made friends, I fell in love...I think. He’s waiting for me in a random brane out there. Or maybe he’s not. Maybe when I go back, only seconds will have passed. The point is that my journey was not without its speed bumps, but I persevered. Did I get a perfect score? No. But did I pass? Yes, I should think so. Parental unit, you haven’t told me everything that you’ve done with your lives, but based on the stories that you have told me, my life is not unlike yours. Hawthornes end up in dangerous situations all the time, and we make it through. That’s what we do. That’s what I’ll continue to do, and I would love for you to be on my side, and to support me in that, but it is not a requirement. I’m Treasure Hawthrone, natural traveler of the bulk, and I’ll be damned if I do nothing with that responsibility.”
Her parents and Miss Collins didn’t say anything, stunned by the logorrhea that just spilled out of Treasure’s mouth.
She plopped back down in the chair, and slouched. “Oh, and I wear this tiara, because it translates my thoughts into audible sound. I have to do that, because my body metabolizes bulk energy, but it leaks out every time I speak, so if I want to keep it in, I can’t talk anymore.”
Freya stood up, and gestured for Treasure to do the same. She took her daughter in a warm embrace. “I love you, and I support you. But I’ll also always protect you. You don’t go anywhere without telling me. I don’t care how much bulk energy you lose, don’t rely on Miss Collins to update me on your whereabouts. No more secret trips, okay?”
“Okay,” Treasure answered.
Limerick stood up to hug her too. “Does this boy know how you feel?”
“Pretty much, yeah. His name is Quino. He was part of the attackers, but he wasn’t a fighter. He just carried stuff.”
“What did you give him?” Limerick asked.
“What, you mean, like, a present...or an STD?”
Limerick just flinched.
“I didn’t give him anything,” Treasure clarified. “He gave me a gift.”
Limerick gave his wife a kiss on the forehead. “We’ll be back.” He walked towards the door to punch the air. It wasn’t really the air, though, not when he was opening a shatter portal. He reached back and punched it again. He kept punching and punching. It made the objects in the room jiggle a little, but not enough to break anything. He punched and punched, and punched until the portal was wide enough to climb through. Then he reached back to offer Treasure his hand.
Without knowing exactly what was going on, Treasure accepted it, and went through the portal with him. They landed on a gorgeous field of various flowers. To one side of them was a pristine beach, and a calm turquoise sea. To the other a forest. In the distance were snow capped mountains. Treasure noticed all of the color around them. It felt like they were standing inside of a painting.
“I want you to pick out, or make, a gift for this boy. This is what Hawthornes do to show our love, respect, and commitment to our partners, especially in the beginning. I should have taught you this before, I just didn’t realize how much you had grown up until it was too late. It can be anything. When we were on prehistoric Worlon, I made your mother a garland chaplet out of twigs, leaves, grass, and flowers. But it doesn’t have to be hand-crafted. There’s a village where we can barter a few kilometers that way, and a city not too far from that.”
“You’re not mad? I thought you would hate Quino just from hearing he existed.”
“No, I’m not mad, hon. We’ll have to meet him, of course, but you’ll need a gift regardless. Even if the next time you see him, you break up, you must go with a gift.”
“Okay.” Treasure did want it to be something special that she made herself, rather than a heartless trinket from the market. She looked around; the field, the forest, and the beach. In the end, she made him a charm bracelet out of sea glass, seashells, sand, and stones.”

Quino and Rosalinda (Part III)

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Quino and Rosalinda covered their ears as Treasure screamed her way into a portal, and disappeared, hopefully back home. They held their hands in place, because the plan was for her to return to this very moment. If she had listened to Quino’s pleadings, she would be a few years older, and a little more age appropriate for him. Something must have gone wrong, though, because they waited for a couple minutes, and nothing. He dropped his arms in defeat. Rosalinda smiled at him sadly, and patted him on the back. They didn’t speak. They could only hope that Treasure moved on with her life, and forgot about them, not that she had gotten hurt, or worse, and couldn’t come back. They were going to be stuck here forever, but it wasn’t going to be that bad. There weren’t any dangerous people or aliens, and the Strongbox was stocked with enough supplies to get them through the next few weeks. They both stepped forward to admire the view. They were on a grassy cliff, overlooking the beautiful scenery below, and in the distance.
“Wait!” a masculine voice shouted to them from down the hill behind them, and through the trees. “Don’t leave without me!” He came out of the forest, running as fast as he could, and struggling with it.
“It’s okay!” Quino shouted back. “Catch your breath!”
The man stopped, grateful. He rested his hands on his knees, and panted. He squinted at the sun, and held up one finger.
“We won’t leave without you,” Quino added, “...and also can’t.”
“What?” When Quino tried to explain that they were just as trapped there as him, he dismissed them. “Hold on.” He mustered a second wind, and started running again, but quickly fell into a jog.
They might have gone down to meet them halfway, but even though Quino wasn’t a real soldier, one thing he learned from the ones he worked with was that the first rule of warfare was to always maintain the higher ground. The other first rule of warfare was to force your enemy to come to you. They didn’t know if this man was an enemy, or not, but they had to assume as much for the time being.
The stranger finally made it up to them. “What did you say?”
“We can’t leave,” Rosalinda clarified.
“That thing behind you can’t do it? I guess I assumed that that’s how you got here yourselves. There’s no one else on this planet.”
“It only works with a particular pilot,” Quino said, obviously not about to mention Treasure by name, and hoping that even this wasn’t too much information.
“Well, shit.” He set his hands on his hips, and looked out at the view as he finished the last of his panting.
“How did you get here, friend?” Rosalinda asked. “We were to understand that this world was not populated by any intelligent species.”
He looked back where he had come from. “I sure hope not. I was trying to figure out how to make a campsite when I saw your ship fly overhead. I dropped the sticks, and started running right for it. Then I heard someone scream? Was that your pilot? What happened to her?”
“She had to go somewhere else,” Quino said.
“My name is Rosalinda James. This is Quino Velsteran.”
“Adalwin Tillens. Welp, if I have to live here for the rest of my life, at least I won’t be  here alone.”
“We’re not staying,” Quino assured him without offering him a way out of here, which should come eventually.
“Neither am I...hopefully.”
“How did you get here in the first place?” Rosalinda asked him.
Adalwin sighed. “There’s this group of people who can do what your friend can. They...leak portals out of their skin, and fall into them. They can bring people with them, and I was in need of escaping a dangerous situation, so I asked for help. I was with them for a little bit before I failed to get back to them in time, and they left without me.”
“They didn’t wait for you?” Rosalinda questioned.
“Yeah, there must be something wrong with you,” Quino added, thinking that he and Rosalinda were on the same page.
“I meant,” Rosalinda began, “if there is nothing dangerous on this world, what was the rush?”
“Oh, they don’t have control over it,” Adalwin clarified. “It just happens. They have to stay close to one another if they want to go to the same place. They’ve become separated from friends that way. I don’t know what it’s like when you do it, but for them, it’s like this psychedelic waterslide, which branches off into different directions, so you have to hold on and be careful. Stay with your sliding buddy, they would always say.” He sighed again. “I should have listened.” He perked up. “But you’re here now, and everything is going to be okay again...right?”
Rosalinda was hoping that Quino would agree, since she was obviously on board with helping this man. “Right,” she said herself, giving up. “We’ll get you out of here, one way or another. Come on, Qui-qui, let’s see if we can figure out whether this thing stores bulk energy, or what.”
“Yeah, come on, Qui-qui,” Adalwin encouraged jovially.
“You don’t call me that,” Quino warned as they were walking up to the Strongbox.
They stepped inside, and started looking through the computer. There actually was a little bit of bulk energy in the reserves, but none of them knew enough about how this stuff worked to know whether it was enough. Besides, Treasure wasn’t only essential to the operation of the machine because she could power it, but she also navigated it. According to Treasure’s teacher back in her homeworld, Thack Natalie Collins, traveling the bulk either required extremely precise mathematical calculations and-or foreknowledge, or psychic capacity. Anyone could figure out how to go where they wanted, as long as they had the right tools at their disposal, but people like Treasure had this gift naturally as an extension of their ability to utilize bulk energy. Quino and Rosalinda were not practiced enough to be comfortable navigating on their own, even if they could figure out how to get this thing running. Or maybe it wasn’t practice at all, but mental zen, or whatever. See? They didn’t even know.
“I’ve done it a few times myself,” Adalwin said. “Perhaps I can be your navigator.”
“Navigate us where?” Quino pressed. “Back home, or to one of the worlds you were on before? We’re not trying to go to any of those places. We’re trying to go to...” Quino trailed off before he said something too specific about Treasure.
“Salmonverse,” Rosalinda said. “That’s where we should go. Only there will we find someone who can help. They have all sorts of time travelers there. Someone will know something. If we try to go where...our friend is...” She gave him a look.
Quino understood. She wasn’t an idiot. This man was a stranger, and he couldn’t be trusted. Voldisilaverse was vulnerable to attack. Treasure’s mother’s home brane, however, was equipped with people who could combat a threat, including an unknown one. “Yeah, you’re right.” He kind of kicked at the console, but not angrily. “We still have no way to get this moving, though, if there’s even enough of that stuff.”
“I may have some on hand,” Adalwin volunteered.
“Bulk energy?” Rosalinda questioned. “Why would you have any of that?”
“As I said, we’re watersliders,” Adalwin started to explain. “And water is sticky. It stays with you. That’s why the originals can’t stop falling into their portals, because their bodies just keep producing it against their will. They think they could be free if they drained themselves of literally all water, and replaced their blood from donors, but I don’t think that’s medically possible. Anyway, I’m not like them, but just by accompanying them a few times, I have some liquid bulk on my body. It’s not enough to turn me into a full slider, but it may be enough to add to what you already have.”
“How would you go about doing that?” Quino asked, even more suspicious of him. “You gonna pee into the engine?”
Adalwin laughed. “No, it’s nothing crazy like that.” He kept laughing for a moment before dropping into his serious face. “No, I would bleed into it.”
“We’re not going to let you do that,” Rosalinda contended. “Neither of us is a doctor, and I’m sure that Tr—our friend is on their way.”
“It’s okay.” Adalwin slipped a knife out of his pocket, flung it open with a flick of his wrist, and chuckled when they tensed up into defensive positions. “It will all leak from one cut. All I’ll need is a bandage. Surely this Strongbox has a medkit.”
Quino tensed up even more. “I never told you what this was called.”
“What?” Adalwin asked.
“The Strongbox. I literally just named it. I only told two people.”
Adalwin dismissed it as a concern. “Heh. Time, right? I’ve heard of it before.”
“Funny, five minutes ago, you were just guessing that it was a means of escape,” Rosalinda pointed out. “Which is it, you’ve heard of it before, or you were only hoping that it would save you?”
Adalwin dropped the act, and tossed the knife from one hand to the other.
Quino took out his sidearm, and trained it at Adalwin.
“The blade really is for me,” Adalwin insisted. He turned the tip downwards, and sliced his own forearm open. It was small, as he promised, but that wasn’t the point.
It was not worth the risk. Quino would rather die here than put Treasure in danger. This man lied about who he was, and that alone was enough to make Quino wary of him, even though they would never learn the truth. He had to protect his love, whether she would want him to or not. She may never look at him the same again, but she’ll be alive. He would always shield her from danger. He squeezed the trigger, and let the bullet strike right into Adalwin’s lying throat.
Adalwin—or whatever his real name was—reached up and tried to push the blood back into his body as he was choking on it. A lot of it spilled out anyway, and dropped to the floor, as did the blood from the cut on his arm. The lighting in the Strongbox intensified slightly, and the engine revved up. He was right about one thing, his body had some bulk energy in it. And apparently this machine was designed to absorb it no matter where it came from, or where it landed. Adalwin backed himself against the wall, and slouched down towards the floor before he died.
Quino breathed heavily through his nose. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t blame you,” Rosalinda replied. “I couldn’t have done it myself, but—but, hey.” She turned his chin towards her when he tried to look away in shame. “But I wanted to. Like he said, time has little meaning for our lives anymore. We’ve already met people who knew who we and Treasure were before we showed up. He could have done the same thing, but he played dumb. He was hiding something, and something tells me it wasn’t that he once called his neighbor a dirty word. He was hiding something big. Big and bad.”
Quino nodded, but still wouldn’t look her in the eye. “I’ll bury the body and clean up the mess.”
“You can bury the body,” Rosalinda agreed, “but I’ll clean up. We’re in this together.” She eyed the bulk reserves, which had gone up slightly. “Actually, you go ahead and go out to dig the grave. I have to do something first.”
“Okay.” He didn’t see what she was looking at, or guess what she was thinking. He grabbed a power shovel from the storage locker, grateful that someone thought to pack tools. He probably wouldn’t have thought of it since he had never once set foot on real soil until he met Treasure. He was going to dig a shallow grave to make it easier, but this dirt was soft, and not too difficult to cut through, so he decided that it was better to go the normal depth. The shovel’s motor did a lot of the work. When he was finished, he went back to drag the body down the hill. It was waiting for him outside the Strongbox, propped up against the exterior hull. It was a lot lighter than he expected. There was something unusual about the skin, and as he inspected it, Quino realized that the hole in the neck was bigger than it should have been. “What did you do?”
Rosalinda was still scrubbing the blood from the floor, and she didn’t stop. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“His blood. It’s been drained. It’s all gone.”
Rosalinda stopped scrubbing, but still didn’t look up. “I did what I had to to get us out of here. Treasure is a time traveler. If she were ever coming back, she would have done so already. It doesn’t matter how long she spent out there, she would be here now. I’m sorry, but we both know that.”
He looked up at the bulk reserves, which were now full. “We still don’t know how to navigate this thing.”
She went back to her work. “We’ll figure it out. I don’t care where we go, but we’re not staying here.”
Quino stepped back through the hatch, but stopped for a second. “There are worse worlds than this. If we do manage to leave, I’m sure we’ll become acutely aware of that.” He left again, and carried Adalwin’s body to the grave. He gently placed it down on the bottom, and then climbed back up to fill it up. He scattered the excess around, so no one would suspect that anything was here, and even planted a few grass seeds to cover up the evidence eventually. He didn’t say a few words, and Rosalinda never came down to visit the unmarked grave. Once they were both showered, they quietly went back to the controls to see if they could do something productive with them.
They found Treasure Hawthorne standing at the entrance. “I’m back. Sorry if you were waiting and worried. Thack told me to return eight hours late. She wouldn’t say why.” She smiled as she was taking a trinket out of her pocket, then extended her arms towards Quino. “Here. I made you something.”

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, Sanaa...you’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.

Antitheses (Part V)

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Hundreds of thousands of years from now, the universe will be a very different place. No world, no culture, no daily routine would be recognizable to someone from the present day, or even thousands of years later. In this future, three boys were born. They lived on Earth, the surface of which had largely been abandoned, and left to thrive in peace. A small sect of humans remained throughout this time, incidentally keeping their population small by emigration, and otherwise avoidable life-threatening diseases and dangers. There were fully organic humanoids elsewhere in the galaxy, but they were genetically engineered one way or the other. This tiny Earthan village was composed of normal people who were the last in a line of natives. Being of the same sex, the trio was unable to further the species, finally marking the end of an era. After their respective parents died, they were all alone in a universe that they despised, and did not understand. They were inconsequential. Or at least that was what anyone who found out about them believed. But there was one thing that set them apart. They were not normal humans. Being the final members of the race had intrinsically made them special, which time itself took to be significant.
The boys grew up, and eventually forgot their own names. They adopted new ones, based on their individual time powers. Time travelers were still around, but only because they traveled through time. Except for these three, they were no longer being born, because the conditions were no longer suitable for them. Antichron was so named because he was a true time traveler, who was capable of freely moving backwards and forward along the timeline. Antiparticle could teleport multiple particles to a single point in spacetime, forcing an unnatural collision that resulted in the annihilation of them all, and an explosion correlative to the number of the particles, and the speed of transport, and reversely correlative to the size of the point. Antintropy could reverse entropy, repairing what once was broken, or healing what once was damaged. He could theoretically restore all of reality to a more ordered state. But to do that, he needed power. To do that, he needed the other two. Together, they became The Antitheses, and set about to change their present. This turned out to mean changing the past first.
A war ravaged the galaxy centuries prior to their time, which contributed to the dwindling natural human population. To win this war, the Antitheses could go back to the beginning of it, and use their considerable powers to win without breaking a sweat, but they did not want to reveal their powers to those who would misunderstand or fear them. They needed to become heroes in their own time, not villains before they were born. They had to win this war using traditional tactics. It was going to take a lot of work, but it was not impossible. To prepare for the mission, they went back even further in time, to an even more primitive technological period, hoping to steal an obsolete warship called the Sharice Davids. It was a powerful vessel, but limited in its advancements, which made it perfect for the future war. There were vulnerabilities in more advanced starships which the Davids did not have to worry about. Unfortunately, this mission proved to be more difficult than they thought it would.
They faced far more opposition in the 23rd century than they ever expected. Antichron’s ability to read the timeline was less refined than he hoped. The ship kept slipping from their grasps. Every time they tracked it to a new point in spacetime, it would move to another before they had any chance of boarding it again. At one point, it appeared to be destroyed, but then it showed back up on their temporal radar, and they were able to pursue once more. Annoyingly, it was traveling much faster than it should have been, and they were having trouble keeping up. Antiparticle was capable of teleporting them from one point to another without annihilating the particles, but this took a lot more concentration, because that wasn’t what he trained himself to do. Destruction was the name of the game for him, and reapplying his skills in another way proved tiresome. It was now the year 2337, though, and the ship was right before them. They were nearly there.
“It’s gone!” Antiparticle exclaimed.
“Again?” Antintropy cried. “How could it be gone again? They were staying in one place! We’re in the middle of nowhere. Why would they come all the way out to this region of space, only to disappear yet again?”
“No idea,” Antiparticle replied. “Follow them, Antichron. Where have they gone to next?”
Theirs was less of a ship, and more of a small snowglobe-shaped lifeboat, protected by a semitransparent plasma field. They didn’t think that they would need anything else, and besides, the more massive the object, the harder it was for both Antichron to jump through time, and for Antiparticle to teleport. Antichron didn’t say anything. His eyes were closed.
“Antichron!” Antintropy shouted.
“I’m looking!” Antichron shouted back. He shook his head. “I can’t find it.”
“That’s impossible!” Antintropy was never really not angry. “We would detect debris if it were destroyed, even if it were vaporized by something. It went somewhere, through a portal, or via the new teleportation drive it seems to have. And if it’s anywhere in the timeline, Antichron, then you should be able to pick it up. All of time and space at your fingertips. Find it!”
“I can’t. I’ve looked,” Antichron insisted. “It never comes back. We have attempted to intercept it at every moment that it has existed after the moment in its personal timeline where it was historically destroyed. I’m telling you, wherever it is, it’s not in the timeline, and it never returns.”
“Not in the timeline,” Antintropy echoed. “Where could they be if not in the timeline? There is no outside of the timeline.”
“Not as far as we know,” Antiparticle reminded him. “We could not find a teacher to help us learn the ways of the time traveler. If we were to find someone now, they might be able to illuminate us.”
“Stop suggesting that!” Antintropy demanded. “We’re not going to look for help. We’ve always done this on our own, and will continue on that way.”
“It’s obviously not working,” Antichron said. “Perhaps we underestimate these primitive people. They may have escaped in a way that none of us is familiar with, and are now cloaking themselves from detection. We’ve been chasing them relentlessly. They could have learned something about us.”
“What can ants learn of gods?” Antintropy questioned.
“Wait,” Antiparticle said, looking at the screen. “There’s something out there. We may have picked up a piece of debris afterall.”
“Plot an intercourse immediately.” Antintropy was not always the leader. Their trio had no predetermined leader, but power shifted periodically when one of them managed to bully the others into submission. It would continue to change if they never came up with an agreed upon hierarchy. This was assuming, of course that they didn’t destroy themselves by the time they accomplished their objectives anyway.
Antichron did as he was told, and flew their platform towards the only known object in the area. It was very slow, yet still difficult to maneuver. They passed by it a couple of times before they managed to sync up with its drift. It appeared to be a person, wearing a vacuum suit, but they were also sitting down. Antiparticle programmed the plasma barrier to accept them as a non-threat, then floated up to bring them in.
Once their mysterious visitor was completely inside of their transporter, the helmet opened, revealing a man. He was not surprised to see them, but also did not look upon them with any level of familiarity. He moved his eyes from one to the next, to the next. “You are here to steal the Sharice Davids?”
Antintropy cleared his throat, and took a half step forwards. “Yes, we are. Do you have a problem with that?”
“I personally don’t,” the man replied, “but you’ll find it difficult since the Sharice Davids no longer exists.” He paused, only to continue before they could respond. “They changed the name. It is now known as the Cormanu, so depending on what you’re after, you may be too late to the party.”
“Who are you?” Antintropy asked.
“My name is Meredarchos, but I’m currently in the body of a man named Carbrey Genovese. I can help you get to the universe that they have escaped to, but you will have to do everything I say without question.”
“Why would you help us?” Antichron questioned warily. “What’s in it for you?”
Meredarchos nodded as if they had already come to an agreement. “I have been searching for someone to help me in my home universe. I keep believing that I have found my champions, only to be thwarted by someone else, or even my targets themselves. I am trapped where I was born, and cannot leave on my own. I can teach you how to travel to where the crew of the Cormanu have escaped to, but before we do that, I demand that you use this technology to rescue me first.”
“Your physical form is stuck where it is, and you can only leave with your mind?” Antiparticle summarized.
“This is correct,” Meredarchos confirmed. “I seek out the weakest of minds, which might be the mentally vulnerable, or the injured. This man here was too busy trying to recover from truly severe wounds to keep me out. Unfortunately, my intrusion suppressed that recovery further, leaving me in this lame shell. I had to stay dormant for a while to survive. I need strength to find another host, but that does not matter if you can get to my real body. It is dying, and I cannot fix it where it is. It must be transported somewhere else, or I may end up trapped in a faulty new body, such as this one. The Cormanu is of no concern to me, but I’ll help you. As an added bonus, I’ll ignore your universe, and only conduct my work elsewhere. Trust me, that’s a good deal.”
“What exactly is your work?” Antintropy asked him.
“You cannot be made aware of that. It is a non-negotiable stipulation. If you want the Cormanu, you’ll have to agree to that, as well as a few more details. You may add your own requirements as well as we continue to discuss this.”
The Antitheses negotiated with Meredarchos, and laid out their plans. He taught them how to synthesize something called an atomic lance, which tapered to a point so small, it could pierce through the nucleus of an atom. With this, they were able to access hyperdimensional space, also known as the outer bulk. Bulk energy would leak into their lance, and fill the storage tank. This took a very, very long time, but they did not need to stick around to wait for it. All four of them jumped a few hundred years into the future, but they left the snowglobe where it was. When they returned to the timestream, the bulk energy reserves were full, and they were ready to make the jump. The whole thing shook violently, tossing them around like rag dolls. They did not bother installing seats on this thing, nor protective belts to hold them in place. Meredarchos was able to stay put by magnetizing his hover chair to the floor. The Antitheses, however, had to alter artificial gravity to keep themselves against the plasma barrier, which could be as hard as rock, or in this case, as soft as pillows.
They waited patiently as the shaking continued for several minutes before finally reaching critical mass, and falling through the breach in the universe’s membrane. Now that that part was over, they were able to place themselves in temporal stasis so they wouldn’t get bored, because it would be untold time before they could reach Meredarchos’ universe of origin. Seconds later, they were there, so they pierced the second membrane, and landed on the planet. It was desolate and plain. There were absolutely no geographical features. The whole world was entirely smooth. They found Meredarchos’ original body where it was barely holding onto life inside of a small personal living chamber. They pulled it into the snowglobe, which was getting pretty crowded now, and took off. First the shaking, then the piercing, then the stasis, then the piercing again, and they were finally where they wanted to be.
“This...this feels weird,” Antiparticle noted.
“It’s a dead universe.” Meredarchos was still piloting Carbrey’s body. “The laws of physics don’t foster life here. There are no habitable planets, only us, and the Cormanu.”
“Why would they come here?” Antichron asked.
He shrugged Carbrey’s shoulders. “It has plenty of chemical elements. “The ship was heavily damaged, so they need raw materials to repair it. If I hadn’t taught you how to travel the bulk, this would be one of the safest places to hide.”
“They’ve detected us,” Antiparticle announced.
“That’s okay,” Meredarchos decided. “They won’t be able to leave yet. I’m surprised they made it here in the first place, but I’m sure they’ve exhausted their power, so even if the repairs didn’t keep them from escaping again, they’ll have to refuel first. If I were you, I would take your shot now, though. They’ll be looking for workarounds to their predicament.”
“You can stay here,” Antintropy told him. He took Antiparticle’s hand, who in turn took Antichron’s. The Antitheses teleported right into the Cormanu where they found themselves trapped in what looked like a hock.
A woman casually approached, and dragged her fingers along the laser beams that were preventing them from leaving. When she removed her hand, they saw that the tips had been burned off. “I’ll just get Landis to fix it. Because you underestimate us. You see, we’ve been eavesdropping. We know who you are. We’re currently upgrading the ship, rendering it completely useless to you. It will not serve you in your stupid future war. We’ll let you out if you leave us alone forever, but if you ever come after us again, then we’ll react in kind. We give second chances, but not thirds. What say you?”
Antintropy scowled and approached the lasers. “We’ll leave your ship alone, and revert to our backup plan, but in the meantime, you’ll become our new fixation.”
The woman leaned in closer. “Then you’ll die.”

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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