Sic Transit…

Sic Transit Labor

Freya and Limerick watched in horror as her mega dragonfly babies flew away. He reached up, and prepared to start plucking the strays out of the air, but was hesitating. “I...uh.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Do you want me to kill them, or...?”
“Yes, of course!”
Limerick grabbed one, and smashed it in his hands. It was a hell of a lot larger than a regular dragonfly, but as a newborn, still small enough for him to destroy in one move. He was able to snatch five more, but the rest managed to escape. “Sorry, I just...”
“Do you think that I think of those as my babies?” Freya questioned.
“Well, I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Freya said, shaking her head. “It’s not like you could have killed them all. And we both know what becomes of them. This is where the Ochivari begin. We did it. We created them.”
Limerick frowned. “Stable time loop. Engineers of our own fate.”
“Yes.” She frowned as well. Then she winced. Then she screamed.
“What? What is it?”
“It feels like a contraction.”
“There are more in there?”
“It’s different. That was incredibly uncomfortable, but not really painful. This is pain. It’s starting to be the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
“Okay,” Limerick said, calming himself with some deep breathing. “I remember what you taught me when we thought you were just pregnant with a human baby. We have to assume this is that human baby, and work from there.”
“Whatever it is, get it out of me!”
She had technically been in some form of labor for the last several hours, so the real baby came out in a matter of minutes. She was crying and screaming, as any good baby should. Ten fingers, ten toes, and most importantly, no wings. The problem was that she wouldn’t let up. She just kept screaming and screaming. Both of them had heard babies before, but imagine the loudest baby in the world, and then turn that up to eleven. Finally, the scream seemed to reach some kind of apex. It was so powerful that it tore a hole in the fabric of spacetime, and sent all three of them to a different universe.
Once the technicolors faded, the baby’s cries stopped, like she knew she was in a safe place, or even knew how to navigate here. They found themselves in a very small clearing in the woods. It was beautiful and peaceful. Limerick rested his chin on his fist, and admired his little girl. “She must get that from you,” he joked.
“You make light of it, but this could be a problem.” Freya was still in a lot of pain, but being here made her feel safe and comfortable.
Limerick kept smiling. “She knows what she’s doing.”
“I don’t doubt it.” A young woman appeared from behind a tree. “You should name her. It’s bad luck to travel without a name.”
Now Limerick was defensive. “Who are you?”
“Thack Natalie Collins. I’m the one what brought your little team together. I see the goingson in other universes. This is where Landis is from.”
“Voldisilaverse,” Freya uttered.
“Your baby is a hundred percent safe here,” Thack claimed. We will always protect her.”
“We?” Freya questioned.
Thack reached up, and twirled her finger in the air. Other people started coming out of the woodwork, and approached nonthreateningly. They kept a little distance, though, presumably out of respect. “We are all voldisil. I foretold your arrival, and I gathered only the best, and most virtuous, among us, to help me create a haven for the little one.”
“They look like they’re waiting for something,” Freya pointed out.
“We’re waiting to take you to your new home,” Thack explained. “You really should name her first, though.”
Freya looked down at her precious love. She recalled a personal conversation she once had with Diamond Zek. Zektene was a teleporter Freya met a couple years ago, who was accidentally transformed into a diamond in the attempt to boost her abilities. They were talking about Freya’s new name, and Zek pointed out that the goddess, Freyja from Norse mythology bore two daughters of lore. One was named Hnoss, and the other Gersemi. Both of them meant treasure. Diamond Zek admitted to thinking it would be a good name for a girl. They weren’t really thinking about Freya having an actual child at the time, but looking back, it felt like destiny. “Treasure.” She sighed blissfully, and looked up at her daughter’s father. “Treasure Hawthorne.”
He smiled gratefully.
“Treasure Hawthorne,” Thack echoed, as if addressing the heir apparent. “This will be your home...for now.” She took a beat. “Come. You should see a doctor. Your physiology may be too different from ours, which could potentially lower the efficacy of the panacea. Once we determine that it will work, you are welcome to start taking it like everyone else.”
“This is the Landis panacea, correct?” Limerick figured. Landis Tipton was another member of their crew on the Cormanu. He had many abilities, but one of them allowed him to heal any wound or medical condition. He used it to cure millions of people on this version of Earth, and only stopped because biomedical scientists were finally able to synthesize a drug that people could take whenever they needed it.
“Yes. We call it Tiptokois.” Thack turned, and started walking away. The others waited until Limerick was able to help Freya up. They formed a security barrier around them, looking out for all dangers. Voldisil was a general term for anyone who was born with some kind of ability in this universe. They could be good, or they could be bad, and some chose to be bad. Neither Freya nor Limerick knew much about the culture here, or how prevalent bad voldisil were, and even if Landis had given them details, they didn’t know how much time had passed since he left to join their crew. These could all, in fact, be bad people pretending to be on their side. They didn’t know anyone here, though, so they had no choice but to trust them, and hope it didn’t backfire later.
They walked for maybe a kilometer before Thack stopped, and turned towards one of her people. “Are these good?”
A man stepped forward, and carefully inspected two trees standing opposite each other. He waved his hand in the space between them. “This will work. Gather inside.” They all crowded around, and waited. The man continued to wave his arms around, this time like he was dancing without his feet, or like he was playing a game with the wind. This wind picked up, and after a minute, blew them away. They instantly transported to a pair of different trees in an urban setting. They were spaced about the same distance apart as the first trees, and as they looked around, Limerick and Freya could see other pairs, at different spacings. It was an interesting form of teleportation that was unmatched by anything in Freya’s universe, despite the fact that a lot of people there could do it in some way, or another. Tree portals, she presumed to call them.
Thack continued to lead them forward, all the way to a small hospital. It looked like something out of an old timey one-horse town, but this was clearly a big city. Freya figured that made sense, because most people here would have access to Landis’ panacea, which mostly negated the need for traditional medical practices. The receptionist greeted them kindly, and then stood up from her chair, showing that she was wearing a lab coat. The others stayed behind while she led Thack, Freya, Limerick, and little Treasure to the back, where she revealed herself to be the doctor as well. Again, with such little need for medical infrastructure, there wasn’t much reason for anyone but a doctor to work in what might very well have been the only hospital on the whole planet.
They spent the rest of the day being examined, and undergoing tests. Blood draws, CAT scans, and urine samples; they were all quite familiar to them. Once it was over, the doctor sent them on their way, saying that the results would be ready in the morning. Thack and the voldisils accompanied them to their new home. It was just large enough for two people and a baby, but very nice and clean. This world was all about simplicity and efficiency. It didn’t need to be luxurious to be comfortable, and to have everything they needed. Their only neighbors were Thack and the other voldisil. There was no telling how long they had been preparing for their arrival. Different universes operated on totally unrelated timestreams. The moment they left salmonverse, and the moment they arrived here felt consecutive, but there was no telling how much actual time these people had to plan for this.
Time was simultaneously important, and not all that important. Freya and Limerick wanted to get back to their friends, but again, it didn’t matter how long they waited. There was no rush to leave when this world was perfect for them right now. So they stayed. They stayed for over sixteen years. All three of them were taking the monthly tiptokois pill, and keeping a stash of emergency class pills at all times. The former kept them young and healthy, and they never found themselves ever needing the latter. According to the history, volidisil once kept themselves hidden, working in the shadows to either make the world a better place, or a worse one. Landis was the first to step into the light, and show people what he could do. It inspired others to use their own gifts out in public. This transformed society, creating a one-world government, and shedding a lot of the pain and suffering that most civilizations lived through.
On a personal note, Treasure was a great child. She was nice, caring, and affectionate. She was disciplined, patient, and interested in learning. Thack taught a special study program at a community college on exoversal cultures. It was generally limited to adults, but they made an exception for Treasure for obvious reasons. Everyone loved her, but she didn’t have any close friends. This world loved and accepted people who were different, but she still always felt so foreign, and never really got over that. People didn’t realize either, or they probably would have tried to help. She was just so popular that no one noticed she didn’t hang out with a specific group, and didn’t have anyone outside her parents who she could trust fully, and confide in. She wasn’t depressed exactly, but she wasn’t super happy either, and that was a realization she had to come to herself. It happened this morning.
“Treasure Lydia Hawthorne, get in here right now!”
She knew what her mother was angry about, but she was going to hold firm. So she took a deep breath, and prepared for battle.
“What is this doing on the table?”
She couldn’t yell, because if she yelled, it would give her mom even more reason to think that she needed it, which she didn’t anymore. She could control herself just fine. “I’m sick of it, and I’m over it.”
“It doesn’t work that way. This necklace is for your own protection.”
“It’s not a necklace,” Treasure argued, “it’s a collar. Your flowery language doesn’t work on me anymore.”
“I don’t understand, you used to be fine with it. You know what it’s for.”
“I control my voice. I’ve taken it off before, and didn’t have a problem.”
“What is this right here?” Freya asked, pointing.
Treasure sighed, realizing her mistake by claiming there was never a problem. “That’s my elbow,” she recited in monotone.
“We left that scar to remind you that if not for the panacea, you could be dead right now. That weird bird creature was this close to eating the rest of you. Your father found you in an uncharted universe after making four—four!—shatter portals. You realize how hard that is for him? It wears him out, he could have died trying to rescue you. He got lucky that time, because of Miss Collins, but if you scream just once, you could end up too far away for even her to detect. If you see a spider, or a boy gets too handsy, that could be it. You could be lost forever. That is why the amazing scientists on this planet built you that necklace, and that is why you can’t ever take it off unless he’s there to go with you. Which you’re not going to do until you turn eighteen, which you agreed to ten years ago.”
“I’m not asking you to let me train with dad. I just don’t want to wear the collar anymore. I’ve spent my whole life not raising my voice, I think I’ve been conditioned enough.”
“Or maybe you’ve been stifled for so long, it’s all just waiting to burst out all at once,” Freya argued.
“All the more reason to let me get used to taking it off!” It wasn’t a scream, but her voice was indeed louder than it had ever been since that time she got stranded. She was still a baby back then, though, and had no memory of that.
Steam came out of Freya’s ears. She held up the collar. “Put this goddamn thing back on this instant, before you do something you regret. I’m your mother, and you’re going to listen to me.”
“I’ll show you,” Treasure claimed. “I’ll show you that I can control it.”
“Yeah, you will, because you’ll be wearing your necklace.”
“Stop calling it that. It’s a collar, and I’ll put it on in five minutes.”
“What are you going to do in the next five minutes?”
“I already told you, I’ll show you that I can learn control. I’ll be back before you know it.” She ran down the hall, and into her room, ignoring the complaints from her mother. And then she screamed.

Sic Transit Lar Familiaris

Treasure had never traveled the bulk on purpose before. In fact, she had no recollection of ever having done it. She didn’t even have proof growing up that she was capable of such a thing. Perhaps the time she transported her family to this world, and the time she accidentally transported to some random dangerous world by herself, were all lies her parents made up. Why would they do this? Why would they force her to wear a collar, and claim it was so she didn’t end up getting lost in the multiverse? What could possibly be weirder—or worse— than that? Nothing, apparently, because as she was proving now, it was all true. Her scream really could resonate at the right frequency to break a temporary hole in the membrane of the universe, and allow her to jump to other worlds. Unfortunately, her father had promised to teach her how to use her powers once she turned eighteen. They were planning a family vacation on that day to celebrate. Since she was leaving early, she didn’t know what she was doing, or where she was going. She could figure it out eventually, though, as long as she survived long enough. Once she did, she would be able to return home at the very same moment she left, and unless she said something, her parents would never know exactly how long the trip was from her perspective. But again, she had to survive.
Alarms were blaring, and she could hear gunfire outside the door. It took her a moment for her eyes to adjust to the low lighting. This room appeared to be an advanced futuristic laboratory, but what did she know? If this really was a different universe, their history could be unlike anything she had ever studied before in Miss Collins’ class. There were an infinite number of branes in the bulk, and this could be pretty much any one of them. The furniture and instruments looked somewhat familiar, though, so it probably wasn’t the version of Earth where dinosaurs evolved planet-dominating intelligence instead of humans. She wanted to escape, fearing for her life, but she couldn’t just leave without doing something. One time, when she was younger, she took a train to visit Chicago. It stopped to pick up a few more passengers in Iowa, so she took that opportunity to step off the train, just so she could say she once went to Iowa. But she hadn’t really. She was out there for all of thirty seconds, and had never returned for real. This could not be a repeat of that. She needed to explore, to make some mark—however small—so someone could corroborate her claim that she was here.
She stepped over to the door, and cracked it open carefully. The gunfire was farther away now, so she hoped the hallway would be empty. It wasn’t. Someone pulled the door open all the way, and forced himself in, nearly knocking Treasure down to the floor. He shut the door behind him, and pressed his ear against it. Treasure straightened up her clothes, and cleared her throat. “What’s going on?” Treasure whispered.
The man hissed at her in a language she didn’t know.
“I’m whispering,” she explained, even quieter this time.
He hissed at her again, and tightened the suction of his ear on the metal. They waited for a good five minutes. Once he was convinced they were safe for now, he breathed a sigh of relief, and started trying to talk to her. Language was the weirdest thing about the bulkverse, according to her studies. All these different worlds, some not even just alternate versions of Earth, but unrelated planets. And they all pretty much spoke English. It was the dominant language everywhere. Of course, other languages existed, but Miss Collins spoke of only a few planets that developed completely without it. The evolved dinosaur one was an example. This was a human, and she didn’t know what language he was speaking. It didn’t sound like anything she had ever heard before, except maybe...Ancient Egyptian?
They continued to try to communicate with each other, using hand gestures and facial expressions. He pretended to hold a gun, presumably asking whether she was armed. When she shook her head, he got really offended, and tried to frisk her, which she promptly put an end to. He put up his hands, somewhat apologetically, but not sincerely, and started pantomiming again. He held up an invisible gun, pointed to the door, and turned his fingers into legs. He opened a hypothetical door, and entered what he seemed to think was a glorious room. Something was lining the walls. Paintings? No. More finger guns. All different kinds. He threw a grenade. An armory. He wanted them to go search for an armory. Treasure wanted to shake her head again, but she didn’t know what to do. Was this guy a terrorist who deserved to be caught by the authorities? Was he an innocent accountant for this place who was just trying to escape? There was no way to know which side of this conflict she had stumbled upon. The only way she was going to understand it is if somebody here happened to speak English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, or Maramon.
Treasure relented, and followed the man out the door. They crept down the dim hallways, sticking to the walls as much as possible. They could still hear gunfire, but it was even fainter now. That certainly suggested an attack, rather than an authoritative raid. She would think cops would leave agents scattered throughout, instead of just moving through the whole thing together. But maybe not. There was no telling how large this facility was. She didn’t know what they did here, or why there was both a lab and an armory. They kept going until they could no longer hear the bullets. They were replaced with humming. It didn’t sound ominous or evil, but pleasant and comfortable. She almost sounded...bored. The man wanted to get away from it, but Treasure insisted they go check it out. If she was another survivor, they had to know, and if she wasn’t, Treasure could always scream.
They slipped through the door, and into what looked like a hock. The woman was alone, locked up, and didn’t stop humming when she saw them. Her arm was lying on the floor, which looked quite uncomfortable. She appeared to be stuck there. The two of them started speaking to each other in their language, so Treasure just stood there patiently. The conversation became heated, though, and he grew angry. It almost looked like he was blaming her for something. Finally, he took Treasure by the shoulder, and tried to pull her out. “No,” she responded, pushing his hand off of her. “What’s going on?”
“I couldn’t give him the answers he was looking for, so he’s abandoning me here,” the woman explained.
“Wait, you speak English?” Treasure questioned.
“I do, yes. I’m from Ansutah.” That was one of the bad universes. Miss Collins would never use such a word, because she was a kind and understanding person, but all the students got the idea. It was populated by monsters, who broke off of the universe that Treasure’s mother was from. They caused a lot of problems all over the bulk. They weren’t as bad as the Ochivari, but it was dangerous to trust them.
“You’re one of the human refugees,” Treasure guessed.
The man started complaining again, forcing the prisoner to get back into the argument. She dismissed him, and he finally gave up, deciding to leave me behind, and go look for his precious armory.
“Sorry about that. I’m half human, half Maramon. They call us hybrids. My name is Azura, and I was sent to this universe to neutralize one Missy Atterberry as a threat.”
“So you are bad?” Treasure said.
Azura scoffed and laughed at the same time. “No, I never had any intention of doing that. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Missy won’t show up here for another several billion years. I purposely screwed with the algorithm, so my creator would send me to the wrong time period.”
“Oh. My name is Treasure. I’m from voldisilaverse,” she felt compelled to reveal.
“I see. You don’t seem like a pretentious asshole.”
“I wouldn’t call them that. They’re just...proud of themselves.”
“What did I say?” she joked.
“Umm. Are you, like, bolted to the floor?”
“Kinda, yeah. These people hacked into our medical implants, and pushed the gravity up to eleven. I only survived because of my Maramon side. It won’t last forever, though. If you could kindly hand me that cuff right there, I would be eternally grateful.”
Treasure looked over at the object on the table. “What does it do?”
“It will disable my chip, putting my gravity back to normal. You don’t have to unlock the gate, I just don’t want to die on the floor.”
Miss Collins taught them about the adventures of The Newtonian Expats, and The Hybrids. The latter were sent to remove the time powers of the former. Each ended up in a different universe when The Crossover exploded, and started impacting history from there. Most of the hybrids switched sides, and became friends with the Expats, but not all of them, and this Azura person was never mentioned. Still, if Treasure was going to make her own difference, she had to start by giving Azura the benefit of the doubt. That was what Miss Collins would do. Treasure grabbed the implant disabling device, and slipped it through the bars. Azura pushed the buttons on the screen, which were displaying what looked like hieroglyphs. She wrapped the cuff around her arm as well as she could, and activated it. Then she was able to stand back up after however long. She stretched, and massaged the implant site.
“Why are you in here?” Treasure asked.
“I built this device,” Azura said, holding up the cuff. “The implant tracks every single member of the Astral Military Force. I really just wanted to be able to go off-world without my superiors knowing about it. I didn’t know it could have saved lives. As it stands, other than me, it only saved two.”
“Where are the other two?”
“Off fighting against the invasion, I imagine, surely presuming me dead. I did pass out for a while. Anyway, thank you for your help—”
“I’ll let you out,” Treasure assured her. “You don’t have to be weird about it.”
“Okay, thanks, because...I don’t belong in here. As punishment, they would have made me clean the restrooms for a few weeks at worst.” She guided Treasure towards the keycard, which unlocked the hock gate. She repeated herself, “Thank you for your help, but we should get you to safety. This is no place for a youngling. Where is the door to the Crossover?”
“I didn’t come in the Crossover.”
“Hm. The Prototype?”
Treasure shook her head. “It’s just this thing I can do.”
“Hmm. You weren’t on the list.”
“The list of what?” Treasure questioned, worried.
“The list of people who can travel the bulkverse,” Azura clarified. “You’re not on that list. With a name like that, I would have remembered.”
“I’ll use that to my advantage.”
“That would be wise. Though...because of time travel, once the secret gets out, it was always out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Two questions, did that guy know where the armory is, and do you?”
“Not really, and yes. He was just a visitor who wishes he had come yesterday instead. The armory is just next door.”
“That seems stupid.”
Azura smiled. “This hock is meant for insubordinate soldiers who they don’t plan on kicking out of the military. If I were a traitor, or deserter, or something, they would have put me somewhere much more secure. This is mostly my commanding officer’s office. What does it matter, though, aren’t you just going home?”
“I have to help you. It’s why I’m here. Let me get you to wherever it is you need to be.”
The two of them stepped out of the hock office, and down to the next door. Treasure kept watch while Azura punched in the code. They walked in, and started gathering supplies. Azura took weapons and tactical gear, but Treasure just fitted herself with a bullet proof vest, and a helmet. Her father taught her how to defend herself, but no one trained her on weapons, and she grew up in a fairly peaceful world. All she wanted to do was protect herself, not hurt anybody. Azura, meanwhile, was carefully removing a grenade from a lockbox, placing it into a smaller box, and lowering it into her bag.
“You really need a grenade?” she asked.
“This is not a grenade,” Azura answered. “Are you ready to go?”
“Where are we going?”
“The Condensed Command Center. There will be very few survivors, and they will all convene there.”
“Okay.”
They opened the door, and tried to leave the room, but were immediately spotted by the enemy. Before she could react, Treasure heard a shot, and felt a choking pain on her neck. Something wet rolled down her chest, and she fell to her back. Azura returned fire only briefly, before dragging Treasure back into the armory, and locking it.

Sic Transit Vox

This was it. This was exactly what her parents were so worried would happen to her. She was shot, and bleeding out on the floor of an unfamiliar universe. If her father was going to find her here, he would have to do it quickly. Azura grabbed the medkit from the wall, and started wrapping gauze around Treasure’s neck, but this wasn’t a hospital, and she wasn’t a doctor. There was no guarantee of survival. Worst of all, without a throat, she couldn’t scream. She couldn’t escape. Something was pounding on the door.
“Can you leave?” Azura asked. “Can you jump from here?”
Treasure shook her head, but obviously couldn’t answer. She started pantomiming again. She pointed to her throat.
Something pounded on the door again.
“You have to be able to talk?”
She mimicked air coming out of her mouth.
More pounding.
“You have to sing?”
She shook her head again, and widened both her mouth, and her eyes.
Something struck the door so hard, dust flew in from the edges.
“You have to scream.”
Treasure nodded.
The door dented inwards.
“Okay. That’s okay. I just need time to program it.” Azura just as carefully as before removed the grenade from her bag, and placed it on the floor. “I don’t know the coordinates to voldisilaverse. That’s loci non grata for us. Where else do you feel safe? Where should we go?”
Treasure removed one hand from her neck, keeping the other in place. She waved her finger down, into a curve, then back up, and into a complementary curve, before finishing off the tail.
The dent in the door grew deeper.
“That looked like a fish. Salmoverse, really?”
Treasure nodded.
Light from the hallway peeked in through a little hole in the dent.
“All right, well, I definitely have those coordinates.” She started messing with the gears and tiny buttons, and whatever, on the grenade. When she was done, it opened itself up, releasing a glow. The door broke open too. Just as the enemy soldiers were coming in to kill them, the whole room filled with technicolors, and spirited them away. It spirited all of them away.
Luckily, Azura knew what had just happened, so she wasn’t as confused as the soldiers. As she lay there dying, Treasure watched Azura make the first move. She started fighting the enemies on her own, switching opponents easily, always knowing which one was the greatest threat that second. She got shot herself a couple times, but just kept going. In the end, they were all on the floor, and she was left standing. “Hold tight,” she said to Treasure. Not only had all the people come through the transport grenade, but the weapons and other gear did too. She found cuffs and chains, and used them to bind the soldiers to the seats. Yes, seats. This looked like a really big train car.
Now that the enemies were disarmed and no longer a significant threat, Azura felt she could drag Treasure to the next car up, and start getting back to treating her neck. Treasure tried to speak, but still couldn’t.
“Just rest. I’ll get you patched up.” Azura removed a syringe from the medkit. “This...is gonna hurt.” She jammed it into Treasure’s neck, and knocked her unconscious.
Treasure woke up after a good night’s rest. She was no longer on the floor, but in a bed that looked like a sleeper car. It didn’t just look like a train. It legit was a train. The windows were weird, though, and it was far too big to fit on a regular set of tracks. Was this—? No, it couldn’t be. What were the chances...? She sat on the edge, and started testing her throat. She could swallow, and she could cough, but she couldn’t speak. Well, she could eke out some really pathetic sounds, but not enough to convey information, and she absolutely couldn’t scream. Was this permanent? It was then that she realized that there was something on her head. It kind of felt like a tiara. She accidentally tapped the jewel in the center of it, which apparently powered it up. “What the hell is this thing?” a voice came from the tiara. “Who said that? Was that me? That sounds like me.” It was her own voice, but instead of coming out of her mouth, it was through a little speaker. The tiara was evidently converting her brain signals to an audible voice. She didn’t even have to move her lips.
Treasure left the sleeper car, which was actually just one section in a whole car of other sleeper rooms. While looking for Azura, she ended up finding the first car instead. The soldiers were still chained up to the seats, but their arms were now free, so they could eat. They regarded her with fairly noticeable indifference, probably having realized that she didn’t know anything about them, and had no stake in their war. One man didn’t have any food yet. Azura was just coming in from the other side to hand it to him. She changed tactics, and handed Treasure the food instead. “How do you feel?” she asked.
“Like a robot,” Treasure’s brain answered.
“Oh, good, the tiara is working. I’ve yet to find an exit,” she began to explain, “or a control room. We may be floating in space, for all I know. I know what this is, though.”
“The Transit,” Treasure said first. “The missing bulk travel ship.”
“That’s right,” Azura confirmed. “My people made it, but never used it, and then it disappeared. They always suspected it ended up in Salmonverse, but I don’t think they spent much time looking. It, uhh...never worked that well. Elegant design, but half-assed engineering. If we want to use it to get you back home, we’ll need someone smart enough to get it running.”
“Can’t we just use your grenade thing?” Treasure presumed.
“It was a one-time thing,” Azura said. “That’s why I was being so careful with it. I was trying to figure out how to reprogram it for multiple crossing, but only ever figured out how to change the destination. It kind of...exploded after we used it.”
“My true voice. Will it ever come back? I doubt this thing will let me...”
Azura hesitated to answer. “Medically speaking, it’s possible for your vocal cords to repair themselves. With anyone else, I would be hopeful. Realistically, historically, futuristically, probably not. You might heal, but I think you probably aren’t destined to. It would explain why you weren’t on our list of people and machines capable of crossing over. You only did it once, so...it wasn’t in our records.”
“It happened more than once, but that wasn’t the point. Now her only hope of getting back home was this machine, and no one here would know how to fix it.”
Azura turtles her head forwards. “You just said that out loud. And you said it in Vertean. Why did you use third person past tense?”
“What’s Vertean?”
“That’s their language.” She indicated the soldiers.
Treasure looked down to find the soldiers looking at her funny. “I think I need to practice using this thing. Alone.”
“I’ll keep looking,” Azura said. “The ship is pretty big.”
Treasure went back to her sleeper car, and started talking to herself. She complained about her parents, and how this was their fault. They should have taken her on trips early on, so she could get used to being on other worlds, and better understand how to use her powers. Perhaps there was a workaround. Maybe she didn’t really need her voice after all, but now she couldn’t test that theory. Now she was stuck. They should have let her learn. But it wasn’t their fault. They laid out the rules, and they were clear, and they were reasonable. This whole thing was exactly why those rules existed, and she should have respected that. She should have trusted them, and honored them. They were going to help her learn when she was an adult, and that should have been good enough for her. She should have been patient. This was her fault, she was such an asshole.
“I don’t think you’re an asshole.” Azura was at the door with one of the soldiers.
“What do you want?” Treasure asked.
“Treasure,” Azura said from behind him. “Siphon would like to say something to you. Go ahead, Siphon.”
“I’m sorry for shooting you.” The tiara was both translating her thoughts into his language, and his voice, into her tongue. It wasn’t that hard to use, now that she knew the difference between a stray thought, and one that she wished to vocalize. “I realize now that you were never my enemy, and...we should have been more careful. We should have kept our war to ourselves. I apologize. I know what it’s like to be silenced.”
Treasure stared at the man with a blank expression. Then she reached over to the sliding door handle. “Get the fuck out of my car.” She slammed the door shut. Hopefully that word translated well, so he would fully grasp how angry she was. She half-expected Azura to come in, and try to talk to her, but she didn’t. They both left, and Treasure went back to hating herself for getting her into this mess.
Hours later, a simple knock on the door indicated that there was another food tray waiting for her on the table outside the bedroom. This was how they started doing things. Treasure would stay in her personal train car alone, mostly in the bedroom. Azura would come by every once in a while to switch out her food trays, and update her on the goingson. She and the enemy soldiers drew up a truce, and then came to an understanding, and then became friends. They weren’t so different after all. It was only Treasure who didn’t belong, even though she was the only one actually born to this universe. Of course, she crossed over to volidisilaverse within seconds of her birth, but her mother was from here, and spoke of it often. If they ever figured out how to get this train back down to Earth, she would know who to contact.
Yes, the train ship was in space, probably in some kind of lava tube on Pluto, in order to keep it out of the hands of those who would exploit its power. Based on gravitational readings, that was as much as Azura could determine, but even that didn’t seem right, based on what she thought she knew about Pluto. The windows were there, but they were opaque, so it felt like living in an underground bunker. There was plenty of space for the small group of them, and they spent the entire time trying to power it up completely, if only to send a message to Earth. Treasure spent three weeks almost completely alone before something happened that forced her to leave. There was a jolt, and a surge of energy throughout the walls. It didn’t hurt much, but she definitely felt something, and she had to go out to ask about it.
Azura and the rest of this brand new crew were in an auxiliary control room. She was pounding on the inputs, trying to get them to work. “Come on, you were doing something before. You’re alive sometimes.”
“What happened? I don’t mean to interrupt, just curious,” Treasure added.
“I believe we went back in time,” Azura replied.
“Why?”
“I can only get any screen to give me any information for a moment. My guess is that the ship is quantum locked. It exists exclusively during a fixed period of time, probably according to the orbital period of whatever rock we’re on. That narrows down the list of suspects, but I still don’t know where we are, because I don’t have that data, because I can’t turn on most of these damn interfaces!” She was frustrated with all the time it was taking to work on this, but not mad at any person. The crew understood.
Treasure stepped forward to comfort her, and maybe apologize for being such an insolent little child this whole time. As she did so, the nearest computer booted itself up, as if responding to her presence. They were all very surprised.
“What did you just do?” Azura questioned.
“Nothing,” Treasure claimed. “I’m just standing here.”
“Walk over towards that computer over there.” Azura jerked her head farther down the car.
Treasure did as she was asked. That computer turned on as well.
“Oh my God, it’s you,” Azura complained. “This ship senses your power. I can’t believe you were the key to our salvation all along. Come with me. I need you to activate the engine room.”

Sic Transit Tempus

Image credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / Gordan Ugarkovic
Treasure felt bad about holing herself up in her train car, and not doing even a little bit to help them all escape this place, or at least find out where they were. She had all this power, and she should have thought to use it. It just didn’t occur to her that she could do any bit of good for their situation. She was sixteen years old, and had yet to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. Explorer was the best that she could figure, because of her bulk traveling abilities, but that wasn’t a job; not really. “I’m sorry,” she felt compelled to say, as they were all making the trek to the front of the train, where the main engines were.
“I hope you’re not worried about it,” Azura said. “You couldn’t have known you would magically be able to activate the computer systems. If anyone should have realized that, it should have been me. Now I realize that the reason the computers worked sometimes is because of residual bulk energy that my body has absorbed. It also explains why it gets less and less reliable each time, as the energy dissolves like nitrogen. You, on the other hand, probably produce bulk energy, which is why you’re able to spontaneously open shatter portals. I’m sure your father does as well.”
“Does that mean I don’t actually need to scream to make it happen? Could I just do it on my own, maybe by punching?”
“It’s possible. I’m no expert, I just have experience. It’s also entirely possible that producing bulk energy isn’t enough, that you need some way to harness it. It could be like visual processing and interpretation. Your brain is the thing that’s capable of processing the light it receives from external sources, but you still need eyes to receive that light. The brain wouldn’t be able to do it on its own. My guess is that your scream is like the organ that can actually use the energy in your body.”
“What’s wrong with my voice now? My neck is healed, but I can’t speak louder than a whisper, let alone scream.”
“You suffer from vocal cord paresis. I patched you up, and your body is healing, but I don’t have the skills or tools to make a sufficient prognosis. So...you might continue to improve. I’m sure there are exercises you can do with your throat that aid recovery, but I’m not cognizant of them, so for now, keep using that tiara, and rest.”
“It’s weird that this tiara was in the medkit,” Treasure pointed out. “Do people get shot in the throat a lot?”
Azura laughed. “That’s not designed for people who can’t speak. Vertean is the primary language in their universe during that time period, but there are a few planets who developed mostly independently, and created their own languages. That tiara lets Olkan communicate with others. It reads brainwaves, instead of translating voices.”
“Who’s Olkan?” Treasure asked.
“That guy right there.” Azura gestured towards one of the men behind them. He didn’t speak English but he recognized his own name, and knew they were talking about him.
“Oh. I should give it back,” Treasure said, hoping to not actually have to do that.
“It’s fine. He knows a little Vertean, and is getting by. He knows you need it more. They’re good people, once you get to know them. We were on the opposite sides of a war that should never have begun, but their cause is not without its merits. I even agree with them on principle, just not with their methods.”
They were finally in engineering. The systems, including the engines, finally booted up, and Treasure could feel the sense of relief in the room. They had been working on this for so long, and now we had hope. They all went their separate ways, and started working at their respective stations. Apparently, Azura taught the Verteans some Maramon, so they could get going. They were all clearly getting stuck, though.
“Okay,” Azura said. “I could use your tiara just temporarily, though. If we interface it with the computer, it will be able to—”
“Translate to their native tongue,” Treasure finished. “Of course.” She removed it from her head, and handed it over. Then she stood in silence, and watched them work. It was then that she realized that one young man was still back by the entrance, not doing anything. He was just watching everyone, like she was. She was about to introduce herself, which she realized she could neither speak, nor understand him. It had only been a few minutes, and it was already getting to be too frustrating. Azura said that it would be about fifteen more minutes before she figured out how to connect the tiara with the computer, so Treasure decided to go grab some water from the dining car. As soon as she crossed the threshold to the next car down, everything shut off. She could hear the cries of irritation in the others. She immediately hopped back in, which powered the systems back up.
“Apparently, you can’t leave if we want to keep these on,” Azura realized. “I was not aware of this either. What did you need?”
Treasure mimed drinking water from a glass.
Azura said something to the boy who wasn’t doing anything, prompting him to leave. Treasure waved her hands in front of her chest. “It’s okay,” Azura said. “That’s what he’s there for. He’s like a roadie, but for soldiers. He carries extra weapons and ammo, and sends messages to other units. The closest thing to it on your world would probably be the quartermaster, but I think I would translate it to Valet, because Quino garners a lot less respect than a quartermaster. He was born on a fairly poor planet, so he doesn’t have all that much education, and he’s meant to just feel lucky he has a purpose in life. Only a couple people here are actual engineers, but the rest are decades old, and have studied lots of different things. He’s closer to your age.”
Treasure frowned. That didn’t sound very fair.
“He’s getting refreshments for all of us,” Azura clarified.
A little while later, another soldier got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on the screen. They exchanged words in their language, and everyone else started listening. Azura sighed, and prepared to explain it all in English. “Okay, so you’re constantly emitting low levels of bulk energy. You, at all times, straddle the dimensional membrane, and let energy pass through freely. Don’t worry, I doubt it’ll cause you any problems, or cause anyone else any problems. Microscopic tears in the membrane form and heal all the time. Most worlds call it dark energy or vacuum energy, and it’s what causes the expansion of their respective universes. It just so happens that your tear never heals. The Transit was designed to run on multiple power systems, and apparently, the guy who stole it removed almost all of them. He couldn’t remove any of the bulk transistors, though, or he would have just destroyed the whole thing. I don’t know why he chose not to do that, but perhaps he knew we would be coming? It would explain why he left the dining car with the food synthesizers intact.”
Treasure tried to ask what that meant for her, but the gestures weren’t conveying the information clearly. Azura noticed that the tiara was done syncing, so she handed it back. “What does this mean?” she asked. “What does it mean for me?”
“It means that we can take this thing wherever we want to go,” Azura said, “as long as you’re with us. To free us from our reliance on you, we would need to replace the other power systems, like the antimatter drives, fusion reactors, and fuel cells. The good news is that that’s totally doable. I can think of three universes off the top of my head that could accommodate our needs.”
“What are you, uhh...what are you gonna do with this thing?” Treasure questioned. She knew what The Transit was. Her parents spoke of it. It was her mother’s intention when she first left her friends to find The Transit, and use it in the oncoming fight against the Ochivari. She and her partner at the time, Zektene switched gears by joining a crew that planned to stop the Ochivari from existing in the first place. This was where they met her dad, Limerick. When their mission failed, they got sidetracked from having to raise their daughter. Surely they would still want this, and surely Treasure had a high claim to it since this was her universe. The problem was that Azura had a higher claim, since it originated in her universe, and that could create some conflict.
Azura was very good at reading people, and understanding subtext. “I’m going to get these people home, and then I’m going to take you home, so your mother and I can fight over who maintains control over it. Yes, I know what her mission was. Yes, I know that this vessel is crucial in the Darning Wars. No, nobody really knows who’s in charge of The Transit Army. It might be her...but it might be me.” She looked next to her at one of the soldiers. “It might be this guy right here.”
“I’m sure it’s not me,” that guy said.
Both Treasure and Azura were surprised by this. “Whoa. Hadron, you speak English? How is that possible?”
“I speak every language in Vertea,” Hadron answered. “I’ve always been very good at picking new ones up quickly. I’ve been studying English and Maramon since we got here, since I’m not good at much else.”
“How, though?” Azura pressed. “I can’t get anything to stay on for more than a few minutes at a time.”
“I’ve been sleeping in the car next to hers.” Hadron pointed to Treasure. “Before you get huffy, I didn’t know that that was why. I figured that particular car happened to have its own power source. I looked through it, though. It only contains entertainment and cultural research. It has no information about the ship itself, so it wouldn’t have done us any good.”
Now someone else got Azura’s attention, and showed her something on her screen. They talked a little bit. The others weren’t that fascinated.
“Hyperion,” Azura said. “It’s a moon around Saturn, and has an orbital period of about twenty-one days, that checks out. It’s very small, and we are presently seven thousand years before the common era. That makes sense too, because the man who put this here didn’t want to have to worry about someone stumbling upon it. Not even a trotter would think to come to a place like this in a time like this.”
Treasure was concerned. “What about communications? If the Maramon computer can tell where we are, does that mean we’re connected to some kind of network?”
“Nah, that’s all gone,” Azura promised. “That’s the first thing we checked. The comms array has been utterly removed. The thieves likely left it in Ansutah, because they wouldn’t have wanted to be tracked either.”
Quino returned with a cart full of drinks and snacks. Everyone took a break to eat. Everyone...but one. The woman who figured out they were on Hyperion chose to keep working at her station. She seemed very determined to figure something else out. Curious, Treasure looked over her shoulder. The woman didn’t seem to mind it. Some of it appeared in Vertean, but it was also still in Maramon. Treasure spoke Maramon quite fluently, but she didn’t read all that well, and the data on the screens was all very technical. It contained a lot of words that Miss Collins wouldn’t have thought to teach her, so she had to make a few assumptions based on her intuition.
“Treasure, what are you seeing over there?” Azura asked after a few minutes.
“She can explain it better,” Treasure replied, “but I think we have to spend another twenty-one days here.”
Azura thought about it. “There’s a little bit of logic to that. You can only enter or leave at a particular moment, and it’s the moment that the time loop first began. That’s why the grenade brought us here exactly when it did.” She translated the explanation into Vertean, so everyone else would understand. They all seemed fine with it. Three weeks wasn’t that long, and they knew that it didn’t matter how long they spent outside of their universe, they could return to any moment, including the one right after the one they left. Of course, they could die before ever making it back, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. As long as the synthesizers kept producing food, they should be safe here.
So they waited. Treasure’s role on the ship was wildly different than it was during the first half of their vacation. Where once she was isolated and unhelpful, now she was vital to the mission. She was getting a lot of exercise, running back and forth from the front of the ship, to the middle, to the back. It felt like punishment, but at least it was keeping her fit. Did this thing have to be so long, though? Most of the cars were designed to accommodate soldiers and their cargo, but three of them were used to keep the ship running. It was modular, as one might expect. Each car was capable of traveling through space on its own, but only the first and last could pierce a portal through the universal membrane. They needed to both be in operational order, to maximize their chances of escaping this universe, and accumulating the right resources. Treasure tried to expand the breadth of her power, but was only ever able to power systems from one car over. One of the crew was a medic, and was able to help her come up with some recovery exercises. She still couldn’t scream, but she was eventually able to speak at a very low volume, which was enough to allow her to return the tiara to Olkan.
When they weren’t maintaining the engines, the crew was taking a page out of Hadron’s book, and learning English. They didn’t do it for Treasure’s benefit alone. Though they were supposedly going back to where they were, they wanted to know the dominant language in the bulkverse, in case something like this ever happened again. While they weren’t all particularly adept at learning languages, most of them were a couple centuries old, and had a lot of experience with gathering new skills. Lifelong education was kind of the defining characteristic of their galaxy. That didn’t mean everyone had access to it, but the longer someone was alive, the more chances they found to add to their repertoire. By the time they left Hyperion, all of them had a working proficiency, and were speaking English exclusively for practice.
When their forty-two days were up, they gathered in the engine car again, and took off.

Sic Transit Pueritia

Coming soon...

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