Infinity Afterglow / Episode 17: Space Goddess

An avian female soon to be seen as a Space Goddess by a village elder.

an epic space opera by Mark laporta

In her first attempt to use the powerful Kadervax, Eldrinaj Kakliadar accidentially opens a window onto a pocket universe and meets a tribal elder who sees her as a Space Goddess. Will it go to her head? In this episode of Mark Laporta’s Infinity Afterglow, a self-centered avian believes she hss finally hit the Cosmic jackpot. Read Infinity Afterglow from the beginning

In the time frame inhabited by Shol, Yaldrint and trillions of others, many traditional forms of employment, outside of the military and a few other critical fields, which the prevalence of truly artificial intelligence had made largely ceremonial. Case in point was the Skryntali Archive of the Ancients. There was little that Eldrinaj or the rest of the archivists could accomplish that androids or gynoids couldn’t carry out on their own. 

The exceptions were instances when drawing a significant conclusion from reams of historical data required a leap of imagination that no machine mind could make. Still, as a general rule, Skryntali office workers had adopted the four-day work week in wide use across the settled universe in business and financial institutions. The upshot was that, at a critical juncture, Eldrinaj had time to pursue her exotic mission without losing her livelihood. With luck, she could locate the Kadervax and convince a resident of the far future to help her retrieve it — all on the same “long weekend.”

Of the possible consequences, including the creation of a new temporal anomaly, the scheming Olfdranyi took no notice. Once in control of the alpha version of the Kadervax, she assumed, she’d have no trouble sorting out a host of annoying details. At the head of her list was putting Warvhex in her place. That is, after the Quishiks had been dealt with. Of all the times to make this magnificent discovery, she fretted, it had to be when the Kadervax could be co-opted by the humans or the symbiotes.

Let them try, she told herself. 

After all, she hadn’t reached this point in her life by obsessing over what might be or might have been. In the latter category was her lingering regret for having disposed of Caligreth so abruptly. There was a lot of information she lacked about the Kadervax and much else. Too bad he was a know-it-all bully. She’d had enough of that for one lifetime.

Besides, his double cross was as inevitable as her own. She’d simply beaten him to it. Trouble was, she knew too little about the physics of metaversal transference to have a coherent plan. “Find a spot in the far future,” isn’t exactly a specific assignment. She’d need a future version of Zyffer 3 populated by inhabitants she could intimidate into digging up the full Kadervax and sending it to her coordinates.

Eldrinaj held her slightly conical head in her delicate hands and gazed out a side portal of her compact trading vessel. In the near distance, caught in the pale, eerie glow of twin dwarf stars, floated one of the two towers the Quishiks had built to make their escape. Though it was charred by the intense energy generated when the mutants briefly ripped the cosmos open, Eldrinaj could still make out the tower’s basic structure. It was a massive pile-up of conventional gravity modulators and so-called “temporal transponders” that no one had heard of before.

Eldrinaj indulged herself in the self-satisfied smile of someone who owned rare, arcane knowledge.

“Everyone blew their top over those temporal transponders,” she said. “But their cousin was tucked away on Zyffer 3 the whole time.” 

Still, the question remained whether Eldrinaj could make her windfall discovery pay off. So far, she had experienced one small triumph. After poring over the prototype’s control panel for hours, and consulting her ship’s AI, she’d discovered a range of settings. One of these, she was convinced, would allow her to use the device’s own spatiotemporal displacement engine to transmat itself.

But how, she wondered, out of the trillions of possible altered futures, could she hope to find the one she needed? Given the empathic abilities common to her species, there was one clear hope. It stood to reason, she figured, that a device this complex would contain a sophisticated Artificial Intelligence array. If only it were also voice-activated.

“Initiate spatiotemporal coordinate search,” she said, as confidently as she could, considering she wasn’t sure that there was such a thing.

“Specify parameters,” said the prototype, in a startlingly realistic machine voice.

Eldrinaj wracked her brain for a sensible answer.

“Survey surrounding area for anomalous regions,” she said, “within one square kilometer of the tower off my starboard side.”

With her scant scientific training, the determined grifter had to hope her directions would get a meaningful response from the prototype.

“Working,” said the machine voice.

Eldrinaj reached for a small bottle of distilled grachmala grain alcohol that she kept on hand for life’s more nail-biting moments. The bright-red liquid inflamed her throat to just the right degree of reassuring numbness.

“Four available coordinate sets,” the machine voice chimed in, “graduated by relative angle of deflection from the established timeline.”

It was, to say the least, an embarrassment of riches. But the accomplished gambler knew where her opportunity lay.

“Greatest deflection,” she said. Best not to confuse the device with her own confusion on the topic.

In a blink, those coordinates appeared on the console’s black and white display with the words Engage when ready in elegant type below them. Could this be what Caligreth had meant? And what exactly did “engage” entail? Despite her doubts, the Olfdranyi realized there was nothing to be gained from caution. Caution, she knew, was what had allowed the Quishiks to remain a threat millennia after their first deadly assault. Nevertheless, the lump in her throat was palpable.

“Engage,” she whispered.

“Specify,” said the AI. “Transport or communication.” 

“Communication,” said the Olfdranyi. Fascinated as she was by the prospect of time travel, the last thing she wanted was to enter an uncertain future. The present was disconcerting enough. Before she had time to wonder at the outcome, a glowing field opened before her. Blurry at first, the glow resolved itself into an image. It was as if a window had opened on a remote location — and, by the look of things, an undeveloped region on the surface of an unknown planet.

“Looks like caves,” she said to the AI. 

“The geological formation on view,” said the machine voice, “is part of an extensive grotto, approximately 2.5 kilometers from the nearest center of population.”

Eldrinaj squinted her deep-set blue eyes.

“Looks like this area used to be more built up,” she said.

In more detail than the easily bored Olfdranyi had intended, the AI explained that it had created a window onto a sidelined region of spacetime. Temporally anomalous, this distorted metaverse had come into being by accident eight months earlier— when the Quishiks’ “jailbreak” tore a massive rift in the Cosmos.

As a result, the events Eldrinaj saw on screen were actually occurring about two thousand years into her own future.

It was, however, a dark future. On the prototype’s screen were the ruins of a technologically advanced civilization. As the AI had extrapolated from residual quantum signatures, the cave system that Eldrinaj had just noticed was once a center of commerce.

 “Why use caves?” asked Eldrinaj. Then it hit her; this had been a center for interstellar smugglers. Her mind filled with dozens of questions pertaining to the entire operation, but she brushed them aside. Only one thing mattered.

“Do you detect the full scale Kadervax nearby?” she asked.

“Yes,” said the AI, “It’s a peculiar sensation. I sense its presence on Zyffer 3 and simultaneously at the deflected coordinates, which are on a probable future manifestation of the same world.

“Wait,” said Eldrinaj, “that’s Zyffer 3?”

“One of many trillions of possible meta-versions,” said the AI. “However, this version is the one most closely associated with the temporal displacement caused by the tower in our vicinity. Curious.”

The Olfdranyi nearly jumped out of her skin.

“What’s curious?” she asked. 

“At a distance of some twenty cycles ahead of these coordinates, I detect two humans with origins in our current time frame,” said the AI. “Their quantum signatures match projective modeling of beings transported to this meta-version of Zyffer 3, from coordinates within one cubic kilometer of our current position.” 

“Projective … who programmed you?” asked Eldrinaj. “I mean, it’s obvious that Dr. Vaxioleth was brilliant. Still, I never heard of anyone doing what you say you did.”

“My maker’s work is a synthesis,” said the AI, “of contemporary and archaic technologies.”

“How archaic?” asked a startled Eldrinaj.

“It dates back to the Skryntali’s last great period,” sad the AI. “The era of the great ships, only a few cycles before….”

Something in the vision of the future Zyffer 3 caught the Olfdranyi’s eye.

“Hold that thought,” she said. “Somebody’s coming.”

“Greetings, Visitor,” said a voice. “I am Elder Aldruleth. Welcome to the temple at Valkrudesh, or what’s left of it. We have long awaited your arrival. Are you here to reignite the Rings of Light?”

A moment later, a placid being stepped into view. Always adaptable, Eldrinaj quickly warmed to the role of demigod that had landed in her lap. With her knack for leading questions, she soon gained complete command of the role of Visitor that was already spelled out in the Elder’s local traditions. And, as it happened, the being who greeted her in the shape of a sentient insectoid was a younger version of the same Aldruleth who would rush to Harlan and Meiji’s crash site decades later.

As San-ju nana could have told her, the temporal distortion created by the Quishiks’ two towers was as broad as it was deep. The same forces that flung the two Terran Protectorate soldiers into an altered future also created an entire parallel universe of displaced spacetime.

As a consequence, with the help of the prototype’s powerful AI, Eldrinaj returned to Zyffer 3 and staged a series of “returns” to Aldruleth’s home world, now from the comfort of Caligreth’s luxurious home. The operation went so smoothly that, by the time of Harlan and Meiji’s crash landing, the inhabitants of this altered future had developed an extensive body of lore about the Olfdranyi’s beneficent ways.

“Think the Rings of Light are real?” she asked the prototype’s AI at one point. 

“Judging from the residual traces of temporal transponder relay circuitry embedded in the walls of the main cavern,” said the AI, “it is possible that this curious phrase refers to a device similar in design to my own. I could attempt to locate the point along the planet’s altered timeline where it was whole. However, your holographic appearance at those coordinates, when the inhabitants were still aware of the wider universe, would not inspire sufficient awe to protect you from harm.”

Leaving aside the potentially dangerous consequences of too much curiosity, Eldrinaj knew she’d never be able to operate the prototype undetected. Better to stick to her plan, she realized. She had set the stage with carefully graduated return visits, and it was time to give Harlan and Meiji a life-changing ultimatum. They could help her retrieve the full-scale Kadervax from their alternative version of Zyffer 3, or spend the rest of their lives on a world dominated by superstition and ignorance.

^^^

That concludes Episode 17: Space Goddess. A new episode will appear next Saturday, and each Saturday until the story is done. Read Episode 18 now.

Read Ungent Draaf’s earlier adventures in Mark Laporta’s novels Probability Shadow and Entropy Refraction, which are available at a bookstore near you, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. Mark Laporta is also the author of Orbitals: Journeys to Future Worlds, a collection of short science fiction, which is available as an ebook.

Image by Kalyee Srithnam.

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