Author Topic: Chapter 17  (Read 9859 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 17
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:00:32 AM »
Chapter 17

Petra approached the cabin door hesitantly. Morty was an alien after all. Not in a directional sense perhaps, but he was alien enough to her. He spent all of his time here, in this dimension. His only connection to earth was through his long-distance lover, Elle. His only concern for humanity was because they were his link to Elle. He had more in common, physically, with fades, but he didn't even care that much about them! What drove this being?

Once she knocked and had been admitted, Petra could hear faint classical music coming from the far side of the cabin. It was Clair de Lune, actually. As a child Petra had played the piano on her mother's insistence, and that was one of the tunes she remembered best.

Morty smiled at her as she got closer. He was sitting in front of a full-sized grand piano, his fingers choreographing the melody. That piano had definitely not been in here a few minutes ago.

Morty trailed off and stood up. As he did the whole thing vanished, leaving just an empty space in the corner of his cabin. He seemed to be watching her closely as it happened, and smiled at her surprise. "Well, you took it better than Darius did. That's not all that surprising, given your different education and background."

"Just how much of this stuff is real?" Petra asked, looking around.

"All of it. You could take a baseball made here and throw it, or play a set of drums I conjured up. Just because I shaped it with my mind doesn't mean it isn't real."

She opened her mouth to clarify her statement, but Morty just raised a hand. "I know what you meant. Here, let me show you. These are all the objects originally from your dimension."

In another instant the walls, floor, stove, fridge, windows, ceiling, were all gone! The cabin itself had disappeared entirely, leaving only a few objects just floating in the darkness. The stone disc outside was still there, as was the videocamera and tripod in the corner. There was a stack of black boxes next to it, which had previously been inside the wooden cabinet. On closer examination, Petra decided they were external hard drives, meant to store a lot of data.

That meant there had to be a computer somewhere. She turned to where the kitchen had been, and there was a laptop folded up in one of its former cabinets. But how could he use it without a power source?

Then she nodded. "You can generate electricity yourself, can't you? Enough to keep that thing going."

"That's right. I wasn't keen on the idea of computers for a long time, but Elle insisted I keep current, and they do make excellent libraries."

Petra kept looking around, and saw a collection to the other side. They were apparently keepsakes from throughout history. One was the gladius sword she'd seen the last time she'd been here. There was a clay figurine of a cross-legged man, several rolls of parchment, a brass medallion with a hole in the middle so it could be worn around the neck, and a bunch of other collectibles all laid out in a row. There was no air or humidity here to degrade these items, not when she and Darius weren't around. For all Petra knew, these could date back to the earliest days of humanity!

Petra continued her tour, and caught sight of a white dress hanging in midair, complete with undergarments. It was hard to remember exactly where it would have been in the cabin, but she guessed in a closet in one corner. She looked at Morty. "Do you moonlight in drag?"

He chuckled. "They're Elle's things. The first time I tried to bring her here, I only got her clothes. I'm told it led to a scandalous story in ancient Egypt."

The dress did look very ancient- a simple white affair with few frills or adornments. "It's been bugging me ever since I first heard about you two. If you can never leave here, and she can never come here.. how did you even find out about her?"

Morty gestured to the couch, which had reappeared along with the rest of the cabin. Petra spun, trying to get her bearings again, and then sat with him. "I never really had much interest in your dimension at first. I knew fades went there from time to time, but I never really cared why. There are a great many other interesting dimensions out there. I kept track of their movements, as I'm supposed to, but they didn't really move much for thousands of years."

He leaned back, sipping a glass of iced tea, and Petra found another was in her hand as well. She tasted it, and it was good, even if she wasn't thirsty. "Then the fades started spreading out from each other. Microscopic distances, in galactic terms, but still much farther than they'd ever gone before. I was curious, so I started to take samples from your dimension. At first it was soil and air, and water. I was quite surprised when I found lifeforms. Even something as simple as bacteria is rare in the multidimensional space." He smiled. "I snagged a boar once, too. I had to wrangle it back to where it came from, and clean up the mud everywhere. Then.. I got a human."

How long ago had this been? Humans had looked different early on, due to diet and environment.

"It was a little black-skinned girl; no more than ten or eleven years old. She was terrified at first, naturally. I took her shape so that I could relate more easily, but that just scared her even more. At first she wouldn't leave the fetal position, huddling in a ball."

There was a note of regret in his tone. "I sent her back, but apparently her disappearance and return were witnessed by her tribe. She told her story, and the next time I pulled in a human from that location, it was an elder of her tribe. He was just as frightened, but at least he would look me in the eye. Or his eye, I guess, after I took his form too. They were bushmen, from what's now South Africa. They taught me how to speak their language, and I found it all fascinating!"

So did Petra. From his name, she'd gotten the impression that Morty had only been interacting with humans for the last two thousand years or so, but the bushmen were much older than that. In college, she'd learned they might be the oldest race on earth.

"From them I got a basic understanding of your carbon-based life and geography. I started expanding my search to other locations, further north. I learned more languages, and gained a greater understanding of your culture and mythology. Unfortunately, I also influenced some of your history, giving rise to stories of primitive gods. It's possible some of the earliest African human sacrifices were based on people 'disappearing' into my realm. When I realized that, I became much more selective of my targets. That's when I chose my first immortal." He gestured at Petra.

"Darius is actually the fourth immortal, and you'll be the fifth. It was easier to learn about humanity without influencing them, if I had one person who could live long enough to get me a steady stream of information."

Petra wanted to ask about the other immortals, but he was already going on. "By that time I had heard that I wasn't the only ageless being in your mythology. Elle was also interested in humans, in pregnancy and birth especially. Her species is constantly reproducing through an energy native to her dimension. The concept of individual sentient beings being formed one or two at a time over the course of nine months was quite a shock to her. I used Taan to reach out to her. We've been corresponding ever since."

"A love story literally for the ages," Petra said softly. She doubted any human could have maintained a long distance relationship for even a fraction of that time, but then neither Morty nor Elle were humans.

He nodded. "Taan eventually grew tired of it and passed his power on to Sukkal, a Sumerian woman. Then she chose her successor. Each one would carry messages between Elle and me, and each was an accomplished musician. Then your people developed video and audio recording, and everything changed!"

He grinned, looking over at the camera and tripod. "I can change shape at will, but for Elle it's a much more gradual process. It took her years to appear human, but on video I could finally see what she looked like! I could hear her approximation of your voice, and the real voice underneath it for the first time! It was glorious." He gestured over at the stack of hard drives. "I also gained access to your data recording methods. In the 1970s this space was packed and overflowing with VHS tapes. Every movie and song ever recorded. Books from every known author on earth. It was a warehouse such as your planet has never seen."

Out the window, Petra could suddenly see the stacks upon stacks of books and tapes and paintings and sculptures. Then Morty sighed, and the stacks vanished again. "I sent it all back to earth, as your data storage methods improved. I have my favorites of course, but I would still trade everything I've learned just to spend a few seconds with Elle in person."

He looked over at her sadly, and Petra felt a sympathetic twinge. She still didn't know how her feelings for Nick would shape up, but she had been in love before, or thought she had been. Long distance relationships were always tough, but interdimensional ones? Ouch.

Morty didn't look like he was dwelling on it right now, though. "Your job here is now ceremonial, Petra," he went on. "You won't need to sing or perform for either of us. I would like you to be friends with Elle, but that isn't necessary either. By all rights, I should have taken all of my energy back from Darius twenty years ago. Any human can pass video files between us as easily, but you humans are also deeply mired in tradition. Tradition states that the next immortal will lead the Veil and like it or not, that's you."

Petra thought back to Torius' journal. "Darius still refuses to talk to me about the past, but maybe you will. Am I Torius' descendant? Was Darius there in Lugdunum in the third century? Or is it something even more basic than that- for all I know, I'm actually a descendant of Darius himself! If anyone would know the truth, it's you."

Morty sighed. "I regret that Darius was unwilling to tell you himself. Most of your history is rigidly patriarchal, with little or no agency or power given to women. Darius is the oldest human alive, and those traditions are hard to break. Yes, Torius was your ancestor. And yes, Darius was his friend. He's never admitted it to me, but I believe he feels responsible for Torius' bloodline, including you. Elle has educated me on how brutally women have been and still are treated, just because they are women. She has faced some of that herself, and she had to keep pretending to be human as it happened. Darius' attitude, despite being well-meaning, is still rooted in that bigotry and inequality."

He looked over at the gladius, sitting with the collection of other weapons against the wall. "He is my friend and I love him deeply, but I wouldn't mind in the slightest if you behave differently when you take his place."

-.-

They were still debating when Petra got back to Kiri Atoll. Based on their recent find, Andy was insisting that Colin and Chuck be released, while Nick was still resisting. Darius looked torn, but unwilling to just let them go.

"Nine of our people have already been locked up for weeks!" Andy said heatedly, looking as if she was about to start tearing her hair out. "How much longer do you plan on keeping them? Another month? Another decade?"

Nick shook his head. "You think I like this? I want Petra's theory to be true just as much as you do, but there's just no way to be sure! I'd like nothing better than to let them both out right now, but all we have is a theory. Not even Morty could confirm it!"

"What if there's some kind of test we could perform?" Petra cut in, and they both looked at her curiously. She swallowed under the sudden scrutiny, but then continued. "My speakers at home are always putting out strange noises, even when they're not connected to a radio. Sometimes it's clicking, or static, and sometimes even voices, though I can never make out what they're saying. Those are EM signals, right?"

Petra looked from one to another. "Look, the last time we know for sure fades possessed humans was in the 1300s. That was way before anyone had even heard of EM signals. What if there's some kind of detectable signal coming from someone who's possessed? Something we can pick up on that body cam footage?"

Andy gave her a cautious smile. "You may be right. I'll get a tech team to look over the footage and see if they can find anything beyond normal human hearing and sight range."

"And I'll talk to Chuck again," Nick followed up. "I'll have him repeat the lines we heard on the body cam footage, so we can play them side-by-side for comparison."

Darius went next. "Good idea. I should continue the hunt for Ortiz and the others. Until we can prove things one way or another, the Veil has to keep searching for them as if nothing has changed."

In a few seconds they had all taken off, leaving Petra alone and looking at an empty interview room. "I guess I'll just stay here," she said to herself. Then she felt for the key in her pocket. Actually, she did have something to take care of, and sooner better than later.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:13:58 AM by Daen »