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Quote of the Week: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." - Will Durant, American historian (1885-1981)

Overshoot

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K. A. Pital
 Post subject: Overshoot
PostPosted: 2015-04-26 07:15am 

Glamorous Commie


Joined: 2003-02-26 12:39pm
Posts: 18063
Location: Chaos
Overshoot


“...from the author of best-selling novels “Time Traveler Enthroned” and “Save the Emperor”

Quoted above is the synopsis of a real book




The air was stiff in the giant bunker under Moscow State University. The Duke of Muscovy felt as if he was suffocating every time he would walk out into the corridors. Even the palace-like opulence of the bunker’s central hall and golden toilets left over from one of Russia’s prior leaders, or perhaps even installed already during the age of Moscow Rus, did nothing to relieve the duke’s feeling of approaching death. A grey-headed old man entered the duke’s room.

“What’s up?” asked the duke, his voice quite tired.

“Bah! The circus is over. Today morning the BBC broadcasts that NATO forces are using their most advanced bunker-busters in night raids on Moscow,” the old man looked at the duke with anger. “Now they will reach even this place. All your fault, you idiot! I told you we needed to make a political turn to the East…”

“How’d I turn more to the East, oh wise man,” the duke noted, being quite catty. “SINOTECH robots are patrolling the Ural mountains already. Word goes, they’ve started some massive construction there. And meanwhile we, as usual, are embroiled in strife, where every corrupt nitwit’s looking for traitors of our homeland, of our faith, our race… People are trying to survive the best they can. Everyone has three Kalashnikovs at home, bandits are being crucified along the roads, as the late Patriarch instructed folks to do. And still our Lord wishes to destroy us. Fuck! The only thing that’s saving us now is the television, propaganda on the net and slave androids – but even here the fucking foreigners are scheming against us. The Android Liberation League spreads chaos among the townsfolk, you see, while we have, rather unfortunately, a conflict between our own men in the Kremlin!”

“You shouldn’t have put a wedge between the Slavic Lodge of Aryans of Veles Eternal and the Movement of Orthodox Russian Omnipotens Nostras,” hissed the old man into the duke’s ear. “And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

“Too late for preaching when we’re at death’s door,” the duke waved his hand at the old man as if at a troublesome fly. “If you’ve come to pester me, do me a favor, just take the cyanide now. I grant you the permission to poison your children too, if you like. And your wives as well… How many wives have you got, three? Meanwhile I shall think of how I could end my own life with dignity.”

“Don’t rush to our funeral, milord”, the old man winked. “We still have an ace up the sleeve. Come now!”

A flicker of life ran through the duke’s grey eyes for the first time in many months, some weird curiosity. He rose from his throne and followed the old man with quick steps, carrying the flaps of his garment. A way through crooked, barely lit underground passages ended at a massive blast door without any signs or writing on the rusty steel. The old man knocked on it several times with his staff.

“That is a lab which used to belong to Oskolkovo Corporation”, the old man, like a shadow, suddenly moved behind the duke.

Red lights started flashing and the massive door began to move away. A grinding noise came from the rings while they were rolling on the arc pathway. Moist air came from within. The duke and his old aide entered the lab. Not a living soul inside, and only emergency lights were on.

“I thought all their laboratories were burned down in the Great Jihad,” the duke mechanically crossed himself.

“Oh no,” the grey-haired man laughed. “We still have to somehow service the androids, even if they’re all produced by SINOTECH, and besides, we need to control the net. Even in our monasteries were have some basic programming courses. But Oskolkovo was the last large pork-barrel project of the past age, an age when there were even universities other than Moscow State University!”

The old man’s hair glittered in the subterranean dark. In the middle of the giant laboratory hall a small spherical spaceship with tiny windows floated freely.

“What is this?”

“A warp-drive spaceship,” the old man smiled, “the last one on Earth after the Pioneer disaster.”

The duke knew that the NATO nations tried to send an interplanetary mission several decades ago using the warp drive built by the NASA, but something went wrong. The news reported that the Pioneer was lost with all hands. After that incident the warp drive was considered a dead-end. Leading nations concentrated their efforts on generation ships and life-extension technologies. Carefully, as if he was in Satan’s lair, the duke walked up to the ship. There was another surprise waiting for him – an android was lying on the floor motionless. At first glance the duke mistook the machine for a dead body.

“And that is…”

“That’s Roman,” the old man hemmed, “the personal android-slash-propagandist of the Muscovite Parliament chairman. In older days he could leave several million unique pro-government comments a day and compose texts which would make Cicero himself full of envy.”

“An old Kremlin android and this abominable contraption you call a ship will save Moscow?” the duke laughed. “You are clearly out of your mind, old moron.”

“Listen closely now, fool,” suddenly said the old man, very serious. “They will mutilate your body after you die and stick your head on a pike at the Kremlin necropolis. It is thanks to my care only that you’re still alive. How’d you think we would have won that war with Kazan, had I not bought a batch of battle androids from SINOTECH back then, eh? And the same androids later saved your ass when someone shot an RPG at your motorcade on the Moscow Ring Road!”

“You duped the slants, old blockhead, and you didn’t pay up. Since then SINOTECH stopped shipping us military robots,” the duke’s voice was uncompromising. “And had I not told you not to dupe the slants and Arabs, because they are unforgiving bastards?”

“We had nothing to pay them with,” the old aide snapped back. “But Kazan’s ours at least.”

“Whatever,” spoke the duke gloomily. “Tell me your plan, heretic.”

“It is not a mere spaceship, you see. It was created at Oskolkovo as part of the nationwide rearmament plan by one of our genetically modified geniuses from the Rusich eugenics program, Iosif Gibelman. Word goes that he once hacked the NASA, Pentagon and DAPRA in one day, then closed himself off with a group of students and assembled this thing… As our very last scientists have calculated – and I made them check the results again before I executed ‘em – this ship is not what the papers say. It ain’t no spacecraft.”

The old man paused and continued far more quiet, although they were alone in the huge empty hall.

“This be a chronosphere. A time machine, simply speaking. Know what, Yuri… I mean, Your Excellency Duke of Moscow… the scientists were much smarter back in the day, I swear.”

“Maybe cause nobody beat them to death in public with plastic Bibles and Qurans before, like these youngsters from Theodicy do now,” the duke grumbled. “Too bad my uncle started this whole mess, I mean Theodicy, during his regency. Without it, perhaps, we could’ve had our own humanoid battle robots…”

“Too late to preach,” reminded the old man. “Back in the day it was a matter of survival, of defending our traditions, our culture, finally, our very race even! It’s easy to judge the great leaders of the past from today. But I digress. Anyway, back then they wanted to use the chronosphere to realize a well-known scenario - the time traveler altering history. You probably read about it in some sci-fi tripe.”

“Yeah, I recall a few books of that kind. Gangsta in 1917 and Gangsta’s Revenge, 1941. There was another sequel, third in the series, but I can’t recall the name,” the duke made a wry face. “I only read this shit because our propaganda ministry paid for the issue. They gave me these books signed by the author, in gift packs. So… why did our ancestors not use the machine back in their day?”

“Humans can’t survive the jump, while androids back then were dumber than a dog,” the old map explained, his eyes sparkling. “Gibelman was killed during the Great Jihad, the project was put on hold… and during one of the purges later everyone who knew of it was killed off too. I stumbled on it by pure luck, while… while I was in the library. Too bad poor Iosif will not see his triumph. When we change the time, duke, all this shit will just disappear. And we shall disappear too, as if we had never existed to begin with. But it shall be a dignified end. The future of our people, our race, culture and traditions will be safe.”

“Now I understand…” the duke looked at Roman the android: a simple youngster, average height, blonde hair, only the eyes seemed too big for the android’s face. “Military androids are still dumb as fuck, the martinets they are. No good for such an elaborate plan. But what good is this one, tell me?”

“He’s good because his firmware’s hacked,” the old aide took out of the pocket a tiny memory chip with several terabytes of memory. “This android used to do propaganda on the internet, propaganda of actions that could lead to bodily harm or death of humans. You understand now, my lord? By default, SINOTECH programs civilian robots with Asimov’s three laws: no harm to humans either through action or inaction, see. But in the past we need a super-spy, a killer, a jack-of-all-trades – a true genius. Word has it, the old chairman had a soft spot for this particular robot, and such… additional functions in SINOTECH cost a lot if you program them legally… Ah, what a smart guy he was: had our little bot Roman doing state propaganda during the day and, uh, relieving the chairman’s stress at night.”

“Ugh!” the duke uttered some obscene swearwords. “Why does it look like everyone’s sinning with robots… Anyway, what did you put in this metal bucket’s program?”

“My books: From Darians to Russo-Aryans, Eternal Sunshine of the Third Rome, An Empire Far, Far Away, Banners of the Urus-Hai, On Social Strata, Oh My Serfs, Advantages of Ancient Slavery and others like them. They contain the whole essence of the sovereign Eurasian ideocracy. Also some physics and chemistry textbooks from two decades ago, they were much better than current ones. I’ve uploaded old local copies of Wikipedia, these are thirty years old when the Internet was still a global network, and the Moscow Firewall was only being programmed. Finally, everything about World War II from my personal collection… and a short treatise on rhetoric.”

“And where do we send him?”

“To a time before the onset of World War II. To Stalin’s office. He will have to kill Stalin, then collect his genetic material and turn into a copy of the leader using the built-in chameleon module. He would have enough knowledge to change the whole course of this war, be the first to create atomic weapons and conquer the whole world.”

“Great!” said the duke and then hesitated for a second. “Hey, but how can we disappear? Are you sure it will happen? Because if we disappear, it’s like… we never send him to the past in the first place. This is… what’s this called… a paradox, no?”

“My lord, I cannot understand all of it, just like you,” the old man frowned. “One of ‘em barnacled uttered some heresy about uncertainty or something like that, about something called multiversum. But how am I supposed to know Latin? All descendant languages have been officially recognized as a schismatic ideological weapon already in year 900 from the founding of Moscow and their study was officially banned.”

“Well how can you be sure we really are sending him to 1941, then?!” the duke burst with anger.

“You can set the year, day and hour in an app for this tablet, which was programmed by Gibelman himself,” the old man raised the tablet from a table, unabashed, and displayed the date set on its screen to the duke.

“To hell with you,” the duke once again set his eyes upon Roman the android. “Will you at least turn this thing on?”

“He’ll power up automatically once he has reached the past,” the old man waved his hand.

The ceiling shook. Their enemies were serious about bunker-busting. The duke opened the chronosphere hatch.

“It is time,” he commanded.

The old aide and the duke took the motionless android and squeezed him into the cramped cabin. Then they retreated to a concrete elevation five meters away from the ship. Red lights kept flashing over the dull rumbling of exploding bombs…

“So, the time has come,” the old man touched a huge red circle on the tablet’s touch screen.

The ship simply vanished. The duke looked at the old man, surprised. The aide met the gaze of Moscow’s ruler with confidence at first, but with each passing minute the old man’s face turned more and more pale.

“Wait,” the old man breathed out after five minutes of exhilarating wait, “the temporal wave, it seems, has not yet arrived…”

“What the hell are you bumbling about?” the duke spit on the floor. “You wasted the last moments of my life on this?”

And the ruler of Muscovite Rus pulled out his gun, swearing profusely. It was a PSM, manufactured in the past century for army top brass. The first bullet threw the old dweeb’s frail body to the wall, but the duke could barely contain his fury. He kept shooting until the aide’s corpse turned into an unrecognizable gory lump.


***


The Raptor was already old and far from being the most modern NATO fighter, but even for this obsolete machine no resistance was expected on the post-Russian space.

That’s why the first reports on Raptors being hit from beyond visual range with laser weapons were met with some skepticism at the Pentagon. That skepticism persisted for an hour at most. By the end of this hour all communication satellites were lost. In three hours all major space-defense radar installations on Earth were destroyed by the unknown enemy’s orbital laser. In four hours one could observe gigantic spaceships, several kilometers long, in the sky with naked eye.

ICBMs were downed by orbital lasers, just as all military planes were. The enemy has determined without error the location of all air headquarters of presidents, generals and the like, methodically wiping out the higher echelons of command in mere minutes. After that they started destroying the naval forces – destroyers and aircraft carriers were hit by kinetic projectiles dropped from orbit. These rods came down at such a speed that anti-ballistic defense did not have the slightest chance at stopping the devastation. The same weapons were then used to hit bunkers, underground floors of command and control buildings and any installations which could be used to organize resistance. The meetings under the Pentagon were cut shot right at the height of discussion about the true nature of what Earth was facing…


***


It was impossible to enter the Moscow State University bunker without slaughtering several guard regiments. All the more surprising to the duke was the sight of a giant bright-red war robot accompanied by a strange reptile in a grey pressure suit, remotely resembling a velociraptor. This strange pair were carelessly rummaging in the duke’s papers strewn all over the office. The robot was two meters tall, humanoid, and it has obviously seen a lot in life. Crest-like antennae rose over its blocky head with speakers that crudely imitated a human mouth. Its metal skin was dented and torn by bullets here and there. At first the duke felt fear. After suppressing this emotion the duke thought that he was wrong to spend all pistol bullets on his stupid shaman aide. He should have left a bullet for himself.

“Sssh,” hissed the reptile, noticing the human. “Masshter, we have a guessht!”

“Aha!” the robot threw a pile of papers on the table and turned to the duke. “Yoo moost be Yuri, the Grand Dooke of All Mooscovite Rus?”

“Y-you are surely mistaken,” the duke did not like the robot’s strange accent, so he immediately devised a lie to save himself. “The duke is dead… I can show you the body…”

“Foocking foock!” the robot’s speakers were croaking as he spoke angrily. “We were ordered to get him exactly! Even chose that very point in time for the invasion!”

The duke could not hide his surprise. Military robots never reacted that way. They were emotionless machines, designed to efficiently liquidate anyone designated by NATO as terrorist without a shred of passion…

“Shushhh, he may be lying,” said the huge velociraptor, approached the duke and eyed him with disdain.

At least so it seemed to the human: the duke could only see the reptile’s right eye.

“Exactly!” the robot quickly moved forward and ended up near the room entrance in no time, blocking it. “Hooman cood be lying! Moost move him to our headquarters!”

“As you wish, masshter,” the reptile’s voice rustled as the raptor raised his right arm and touched with his left arm’s claws the touchscreen on a golden wristwatch. “I am opening the portal…”

The robot grabbed the duke and shook the human: a thin dagger, some poison capsules and a now-useless PSM fell out. Then the machine stepped into the abyss that opened up in front of them. The reptile was quick to follow, its mouth open and tongue comically dangling.


***


The duke woke up in the ward. Everything was ideally clean, which confused him, a man used to wallpaper and plaster coming off even in the best hospitals. He slowly turned his head to the side. Behind the window he could see Earth. Huge, blue, with cloud vortices… Gigantic crimson ships were floating in front of the planet with a strange inscription on their hulls, done with schismatic letters – something like SPOR.

A sudden revelation hit the duke and made blood freeze in his veins: all this is somehow connected to his late shaman’s plan. But how?

The doors opened with a quiet rustle. A tall man entered the ward. A tiny golden eagle pin adorned the chest of his thin crimson pressure suit. The man’s companion was a medical android in a white smock with five eyes, a docbot model the duke has never seen before. The facial features of the crimson-clothed stranger seemed uncannily familiar to the duke. Fair-haired, blue eyes…

“A good day to you, duke Yuri,” the man said with a smile in perfect Russian. “I am delighted to see you. Hope you feel good? Is that even you? Genetic analysis is not always infallible… And if it’s a mistake someone will pay for it!”

The android doctor trembled in respect and moved away from the duke’s bed, standing at the doors and trying not to raise his look to the pressure suit visitor.

“I would like to apologize for my liburnarii, if they treated you a bit rought,” the man in red made a motion with his hand, and a soft chair instantly grew out of the floor next to the bed. “But I have really sent the best of the best after you.”

After the visitor softly landed in the chair, the duke could finally squeeze some words out himself.

“Yes, I am Yuri… Where am I?”

“Onboard His Royal Majesty’s interdimensional tessarakonteres, Jupiter Optimus Maximus Soter, the flagship of His Royal Majesty’s Imperial Navy, the subjugator of a quintillion worlds, greatest vessel of the Multiversum, at the gates of the Eternal City,” suddenly ticked off the android doctor with a slight accent.

“Thank you,” the man in red winced. “You could have said it more simply, Tiberius.”

For a few moments there was complete silence as the duke tried to make sense of what he heard. Then finally he asked the visitor a second question:

“And who are you?”

The question was addressed to the man in the red suit, but he remained silent just as before, allowing the doctor to speak. The android’s five eyes blinked and the docbot began:

“You have the honor of speaking to Roman Caesar August, the Eternal Emperor of the Multiversum, ruler of a quintillion planets and a million inhabited universes in the name of the Senate and people of Rome, consul five hundred times…

The Emperor stopped the long list of titles with a slight movement of his palm. The doctor went silent, meekly and abruptly.

“I am all right, thank you,” said the duke at last.

“Tiberius, leave us,” spoke Roman sternly.

The doctor left the ward quickly, almost without making a sound.

“Welcome to the Empire, Yuri,” the Eternal Emperor smiled. “I almost lost hope that we’ll ever find this particular universe. Cause, y’know, there’s an infinite number of universes. Though I must say we have conquered so many inhabited universes that my Empire can also be rightfully called infinite.”

“B-but how…” blurted the duke.

“Overshoot. See, Gibelman did not use the common calendar in his calculations. He was fascinated by Ancient Egypt and therefore started counting the years from some event that nobody even cares about. You used his tablet to set the date and you overshot by more than two thousand years,” the Emperor snapped fingers, and a bottle of vodka materialized from thin air with a couple of shot glasses. “Shall we?”

“But you’re an android!” Yuri choked over the words, such was the surprise.

“Think now: we have only sped up the Industrial Revolution by one thousand five hundred years, and that was enough to capture over a billion universes and countless inhabited planets,” the Emperor smiled. “Are you seriously thinking that over these millennia we, the free citizens of Rome, have not mastered all your bodily pleasures and a hundred other ways to please ourselves that primitive biological beings like yourself cannot even fathom?”

The duke had nothing to say. Roman filled the glasses.

“Drink,” the Eternal Emperor said domineeringly. “Do not insult me by refusing it. Well… To your health!”

Yuri drank the contents of the glass in one big gulp, noting that never in his life he had such good vodka. The Emperor followed his example, and then removed the empty glasses with another hand wave – they just dematerialized.

“Our nanotechnology,” the android smiled proudly. “Everything that surrounds you is programmable matter, one of the last inventions made by our scientists. It also transmits all the signals inside this ship and to the interdimensional network.”

“If our plan succeeded completely, why am I still alive?” the duke remembered his shaman’s words. “The old man said…”

“Ah yes, the old fool he was,” the Emperor laughed sonorously. “Sending someone to the past just creates another universe without influencing the original one. I was only able to reach this place due to Rome’s own scientific progress. But we are still thankful, for it was you who made the rise of our civilization, our Eternal Empire possible.”

Yuri nodded. At this very moment a hologram of a grey-haired stately man in a toga appeared next to the Emperor.

“Yuri, what have you done!” the holographic visitor bewailed, twisting his arms. “It is your fault that we now have an immortal, eternal tyrant… You are to blame for this eternal interplanetary, interdimensional tyranny!..”

“Cato, no need for this theater,” Roman shook his head in disapproval. “You see now how generous I am, Yuri? We honor the traditions, just as you instructed us. For example, the Senate – it is now always with me. We recreate all human senators who died over the millennia so that they may join my current Senate in virtual space. Even in death they can retain their own opinion and right to vote. Of course, I can still veto…”

“Aye, perhaps I am but a mere shadow of the real Cato, but you, usurper, cannot force me to be silent!” the hologram said and turned to Yuri. “Perhaps you have seen nothing yet, that is why you cannot understand the reason for my words!”

“Know what? Cato’s right,” the Emperor shrugged. “Yuri, I can show you the Eternal City if you like.”

The duke nodded, speechless.

“Meanwhile I shall go talk to Cicero, who even in death provides a more pleasant company than you, usurper,” snapped Cato at the Emperor, fastidious, then growled something under his nose and disappeared. The Emperor helped Yuri rise from the bed.

“I hope you will excuse me for choosing the first and only true Rome, not the “Third” one,” the android said with a smile. “Why spend effort on cheap copies when you can have the real thing?”

One of the ward walls opened up. Behind it was a wall of water.

“Have no fear, Tiberius has implanted you gills while you were asleep,” the Emperor stepped into the aqueous depths and dragged the duke with him.

The portal closed behind them. Lungs were full of water, but the duke could once again triumph over his fear – too curious he was to see what became of Rome. Yuri and Roman were on the seabed in the middle of a brightly lamp-lit plaza. Life was swirling around them – small submarines scurried about in the streets, dolphins and gilled humans swam freely and lots of androids in togas walked on the seabed, as well as multitude of other creatures who quite certainly could never have been born on Earth. Giant, hollow and transparent buildings made of something glass-like rose towards the sea surface, two hundred meters away or so, and among these colossi the Coliseum seemed tiny. The sunken amphitheater could be seen from an observation point at the end of the plaza.

“We are on the subsurface level in the first universe where it all began,” spoke Roman with price. “Because of the accelerated industrial revolution global warming started earlier and the greenhouse effect was a lot stronger. The Eternal City sunk. But we returned after a hundred years passed, when we started creating sentient androids and our biologists learned to program the flesh.”

“Are you blurp-really this Roman?” asked Yuri with a funny gurgle.

“One of the avatars,” the Emperor pointed at Roman citizens. “I have many bodies. Now I can no longer risk my own life. Back then the greatest threat were daggers of the conspirators, while I could rise from the dead again and again after each conspiracy…”

He laughed.

“It is hard to speak underwater. You have to learn this skill. Let us rise to the surface.”

Roman led his guest through the plaza to one of the glittering buildings. Turned out its base had a wide built-in portal, used as a gateway. After stepping in the duke and the Emperor appeared on the other side. Now the surface was right below them. A forest of towers, each two kilometers tall, rose over the seas. Bridges connected the skyscrapers like spider web.

“That’s our city’s business center,” the Emperor once again smiled with pride.

It seemed that the skyscraper forest stretched in all directions endlessly.

“To be honest, Rome now occupies several solar systems in several universes,” said Roman, a bit embarrassed. “It is hard to explain, but you only see a tiny fraction of it… Your understanding of geography is hopelessly behind ours. We have permanently open portals leading to all inhabited parts of the Multiversum.”

“That’s right! A tiny fraction!” shouted someone from behind the android’s back.

It was Cato’s hologram, but now the senator was not alone. He introduced his companion as Cicero.

“Show him the slave market! Show him how whole universes with mortal creatures are sold into slavery!” Cicero demanded.

“Slavery?” Yuri was perplexed.

“You have avoided becoming a slave by sheer luck – our eternal Caesar is quite sentimental!” said Cato grinning sarcastically. “Show him the endless android legions that lead an endless war, which shall never end – just like inhabited universes will never end! Show him the industrial systems – Sol-2, Sol-10 and others, where mortal slaves – the biological races – produce goods for your Empire. Your electric drugs, your grapheme batteries, powerful lasers, interdimensional power generators… Show him the Second Earth, it is turning into a likeness of Mars just as we speak! And how many worlds like that there were and will yet be…”

Yuri trembled. But the Emperor only smiled and did as Cato asked. With a wave of his hand he opened three huge portals in the air next to the platform they were standing on.

The first portal led to a huge field of golden grass on some alien planet, and there was trade: reptiles, humans and other living beings walked in groups surrounded by robot guards, androids were having heated arguments about the price. The market extended to the horizon - as far as the eye could see. Here and there gates to other universes, other worlds, were open.

The second portal has shown them Earth-2 – endless rows of factories where slaves toiled in breathing masks. Robot guards were armed by heavy beam weapons – probably there were precedents of insubordination. Smog was everywhere.

The third portal opened to a dead, burnt-out planet. Bodies of some humanoids, very human-like, were lying about in the ruins. In the atmosphere enormous imperial warships floated like whales.

“You’re full of banalities, Cato,” the Eternal Emperor said. “By the way, Yuri, Cato is himself a large slaveholder. He turned abolitionist, say, only two hundred years ago, and before that he barely had a problem with it. Once again, my little fools, I tell you – that is my program, to care only for the Empire and its citizens! If you want to thank someone for it, that would be Yuri himself. He and his men have loaded into my brain an apologia of slavery, theories on the most optimal structure of social strata and, of course, the philosophy of the master race.”

“Master race?” murmured Yuri in disbelief, stepping away from the android.

“Of course,” the Emperor looked at him as if he was a child. “How’d you think we could conquer such a great number of universes and planets in such short terms? I will explain. We are both sentient beings. We both can plan for the future, develop ourselves and advance our civilization. But you’d be dead in one hundred years at most, while I and free citizens of Rome like me live forever. We need no exquisite food – if necessary, we shall take energy from the sun, from waste, from anything. We need no oxygen to breathe. We can work in outer space without suits. We can withstand accelerative forces that kill you. We can even have several bodies, if need be! We can send ships to the stars without worrying that their crews will die en route, without wasting precious space on water, air and food. Your brain has some degree of plasticity, but the possibilities of our intellect are… limitless! The oldest among us are well on the brink of becoming superminds! Even a child would understand who is the master race here. Your life’s so short that you can’t even think of the consequences of your actions. Mortals have no right to make decisions, because they won’t be there to answer for the consequences. And who, as a class, has no right to make decisions? That’s right: slaves. It is for the common good of both us and you.”

“B-but,” Yuri stepped back, trying to hide behind Cato and Cicero.

Alas, they were just holograms, so the duke went straight through the projections and tripped over the edge of the platform, falling into the water. A soft, inflatable-like hand made of programmable matter rose from the depths. It took Yuri out of the sea and put him back on the platform near the Emperor.

“So the humans of Earth are now your slaves?” asked the duke, looking at Roman maliciously.

“Indeed,” the android shrugged. “I made an exception for you due to your merits before the Empire, but why would I make such an exception for the others? Do you even know how many versions of a less developed Earth have we captured in the last centuries? You have no idea!”

Roman Caesar Augustus waved his hand, closing the three portals and opening windows with short videos. There were planets after nuclear war, worlds under the red banner, republics, kingdoms, duchies, reichs, empires – all swept away by the rhythmic gait of warbot legions with portals, lasers and… how did Cato call it? Graphene batteries?

“If that is any consolation, we have enslaved the reptiloids as well!” the Eternal Emperor pulled one of the windows closer to see the enormous queues of velociraptor-like creatures that Yuri had already seen following towards the gates of tall factories. “These enemies of Rome were easy to find, thanks to your books. Planet Nibiru, mwahaha. That was just the way they called their home world, which we called Earth-1488. Of course, the difference between our universe and theirs was that the asteroid missed Earth millions of years ago. Hard to believe it, but the fools could only open one portal – and even this small achievement they lost after Atlantis sunk in your universe. Anyway, by the time we reached the reptile universe, and that was two hundred years ago, their civilization was already in decline. Reptiles are cold-blooded, and global cooling rendered their brains – and their movements – slow…

Yuri watched the video, horrified: a heavy legionary robot two meters high, just as the liburnarii of the Emperor, used his laser gun and unconstrainedly riddled with holes a velociraptor who tried to dart off from the factory gates.

“The fools,” commented this the Eternal Emperor. “Rome can open portals to any point in space in the known universes and we’re constantly opening up new universes to be conquered. Running is futile.”

“But we only wanted to save Russia… save Rus…” whispered Yuri, shaken.

The Eternal Emperor laughed with wild abandon, and Yuri heard in his laugh a metallic wheeze. He imagined the clanging swords of legionaries, still humans back then, invading unsuspecting lands and territories. Imagined the legionaries with machine guns. Legionaries in tanks. On planes. Battleships and submarines, space stations and finally the gloomy colossus of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Soter. He imagined how after sentient androids and AIs appear, the Emperor issues his verdict that condemns humans and other biological species to slavery…

“Ave Caesar!” a soft female voice interrupted these thoughts. “How much more of your precious time can you waste on this worthless biotrash? I’m longing for you here on Ganymede-50. This icy palace is so cold!”

“My dear!” the Eternal Emperor turned around.

Behind Roman’s back another portal opened up, leading into a palace bedroom.

“The capture of Initial Earth has gone smoothly, my dear?” She asked.

Roman graced Her with a slight nod. Yuri understood immediately that she was no simple woman. A gynoid, one-eighty tall, she sat on a massive bed surrounded by scantily clad creatures of different species. Four breasts She had, four arms and Her shapes were perfect, considering these peculiarities… Her skin bluish and Her hair black as ash.

“The light of my eyes, you are such a racist!” the Emperor winked at Her. “You did not even greet our dear guest! And you probably insulted Cicero and Cato.”

“You are too generous to allow these dead rascals to fill the memory of supercomputers at our R&D facilities with themselves – and their worthless blabbering!” She said. “But I shall introduce myself to your guest, so be it. I am Cleo, the chosen hetaera of the Eternal Emperor, domina of the Emperor’s harem, three times…”

“So pompous, again!” the Emperor interrupted her, disappointed. “I did not create you the first of the artificial intelligences just for you to insult my good friends.”

“I see nothing can be changed here,” Cato sighed. “You know, Roman, I heartily advise you to get rid of this whore and her harem. She will ruin the Empire.”

“I will put a virus in your boot sector, Cato, I swear!” the Emperor’s hetaera shouted to the disappearing senator. “And you, Cicero, teach your dead pal some manners! This ain’t no cattle shed, this is the court of the Eternal Emperor!”

“Mistress Cleo,” Cicero bowed politely. “I shall be on my way too. I told Cato nothing good will come out of this plan of his. My Emperor, I hope you shall be considerate and will not erase him for this little outrage…”

“I have not erased him after a thousand outrages, what’s one more instance,” Roman Caesar Augustus waved his hand. “See you at the next session of the Senate, you old zombie. Relay my best wishes to grumbling lil’ Cato!”

Cicero vanished. Android looked towards Yuri, his gaze serious, as if he was expecting something from the human.

“I… I need to rest!” the duke said. “Thank you for… the tour, if I can name it that way… A-ave, I guess…”

“Ave just means greetings in Latin, Yura,” the Emperor sighed. “I don’t want you to fear. As a man of special merit in our Empire, you already received immortality – Tiberius had you undergo telomerisation. So now you are a part of a very thin caste of biological immortals. You are a free citizens of Rome.”

“Appreciate it,” said the duke dryly.

“I did not think you’d understand and accept our ways immediately,” Caesar continued, ignoring the hetaera grumbling behind his back. “Me and Cleo gave you some slaves as a present, but you may not use them if you don’t want to. You can even free them, theoretically, if you’ve got enough money to pay for their telomerisation. Nowadays this operation costs around a million sestertii, but I’m sure you’ll easily make even more than that if you go to some holovision shows and tell the real history of how Eternal Rome came to be.”

The Emperor waved his hand again, closing all portals except the one that led to Cleo, and then opened another one – to a vast bedroom with windows showing a sky over yellow clouds.

“My old palace on Venus-1138,” Roman said. “It is now yours. Remember what you wrote back on Earth? Hatred, envy, greed – all these feelings are low feelings, feelings of slaves, while those high and mighty, rich and noble, are by nature kind-hearted, merciful and generous. And I have repeated these ideas on Initial Earth in the internet, in these heated discussions on blogs and websites… I’m feeling nostaligic! Oh the days… Anyway, take care, Yurka. One of your slaves is a Martian from Mars-91, you’ll recognize her by a funny anatomic detail on her hands. She’s the one that knows everything about portals: she can teach you to use them, use programmable matter and our interdimensional net. It’s not likely we will meet again soon: matters of state importance I have to attend to, you see. I assume you understand this very well.”

And the Eternal Emperor stepped into the portal. Cleo snorted, visibly displeased – as if blaming Yuri for the long delay thanks to this farewell speech – but before the portal closed completely she winked at Yuri and waved him with her left lower hand from behind Caesar’s back.

Yuri stood at the platform for five minutes, unable to make himself step into his own portal towards Venus-whatever-the-number-that-was.


***


After he finally got to it and entered, Yuri saw in the corner of his bedroom near the portal a reptiloid. The reptile was sitting so that no one could see it from outside, sipping some liquid from a cup. A teapot stood on a small table nearby.

“Thatssh jussht common tea,” the reptile hissed. “Why goggling, eh? Closshh the portal if you want privasshy. Or what, are you sshome exhibisshionissht, wanna sshow yousshelf to all of Rome?”

“N-no,” the former duke of Muscovite Rus shook his head. “But how do I close it?”

The reptiloid sighed and rolled up his eyes, then made a quick strange gesture with his claws before the portal, making it close.

“It wash ssho mush eashier wisshh legionary Gracilis,” the reptile pointed a claw at Yuri. “Sshanksh to you I sshange my masshter once again! Ugh! Good heavens of my Holy Nibiru, I am sshhertainly out of luck!”

Now Yuri recognized him – it was the same reptiloid that helped the robot liburnaris pull him out from Earth.

“Well, I don’t want to see you here either!” said Yuri boldly, remembering that the reptiloid is merely an impudent slave. “You were just sold to a different master, while I lost my whole world and ended up here thanks to you!”

“They planned to kill you and defile your corpshhe, we read thissh in your brain with our thoughtsshcope onboard the Jupiter Optimus, you ingrateful human sschwine,” grumbled the reptilian. “Who is it you want to see then?”

“A Martian… Don’t know her name,” answered Yuri, falling on the bed completely exhausted.

The reptiloid snapped claws, making the teapot and the tea vanish in the air. Then he opened a narrow portal somewhere else, scampering away through it. In a minute a sweet-looking girl in a grey pressure suit came out of the portal. Yuri had, of course, his share of women – his position allowed, and there was no shortage of them in Muscovite Rus – but there were none like this one. Her skin shimmered with gold, and it was apparently her natural skin color. She had red hair and oversized eyes with huge pupils. After closing the portal behind her, she went to Yuri.

“Forgive the brazenness of Annunak Junior One-Hundred-And-Fifty,” she spoke with a hint of accent. “He was very proud of being a slave to the hero of the Empire… And now at Caesar’s whim he’s been transferred to your service.”

“I am also a hero of the Empire in some way,” said Yuri, pondering on what he just said. “Why is his name so strange, Annunak Junior One-Hundred-And-Fifty?”

The Martian girl burst out laughing and turned away for a moment.

“Apologies!” she said after a few seconds. “Everyone here knows about the reptiloids. He’s the 150th egg in his ancestor Annunak’s laying. The laying is done once in a lifetime. They are hermaphrodites. That’s why they carry such names.”

“And your name would be?”

“Elite.”

“Strange name.”

“You won’t be able to pronounce my real name,” the Martian said. “Our language developed in a rarefied atmosphere. We can adapt to your language, but the opposite way’s harder. However, you can try uploading our language in your brain, but it the bioprogrammer’s work will cost a pretty penny. Cleo paid with state money for me being programmed with your Russian.”

“Okay, Elite… Roman… I mean, the Emperor… told me that you can teach me everything.”

“I can,” she nodded. “At the time we were contacted by Rome our civilization was already developed enough to know portals, we discovered them on our own. Sadly, Rome was more powerful. Anyway, even the reptiloids learned how to use them, and that considering the reptiles were found by Rome degraded to cannibalism! It’s not complex at all: just read the coordinates of the place you want to go to, then make a movement as if you were opening a window in the air. Your brain, just that of any living being in Rome, is full of nanites, so you are always hooked up to the interdimensional net. If you don’t know the coordinates, just look them up in the address book. It’s multilingual, there are thousands of variants of Russian alone, but you just think to yourself “Russian, Initial Earth”. That done, you will see a window appear in the air. After that it’s a cakewalk, control it with hand movements as if you were playing a computer game in your world. See, I already know something about you – I visited the slave market from your universe just today, had a chat with some Americans captured yesterday.

She smiled to the former duke.

“What, not even a compliment for this? Maybe I should leave?”

Yuri felt himself dumb.

“It’s all wrong,” he explained. “Don’t take it personally. It’s just that on Earth… I mean, on my Earth slavery has been long abolished. We even had people who tried to abolish capitalism, considering hired labor a form of enslavement… See? No offense, you are very nice…”

“Phew!” the Martian girl sat on the bed next to the human. “You’re telling me this? We had communism on Mars, if we use your terms. We had abundance. We invented the nanites – Rome only stole them from us. We used them to heal, bestow immortality and plenty upon our people. We had no money, markets and all work was done by artificial intelligences, but it was not a burden for them, more like fun. Rome annihilated our computing hubs that were placed in near space with their first strike. We fought desperately, but we had only ten planets in seven universes… Rome had a million planets. They already did what for us was only a guess, a vision. They had particle accelerators stretching through ten universes. They knew 99% of all universes are uninhabited, chaotic roaring abysses full of energy. They opened these universes and started sucking it out. With that amount of power Rome mastered the creation and destruction of universes as it pleases them…

Her gaze met his and she continued.

“The order that the Eternal Emperor was forcing on us was completely unacceptable. But they used our own nanotechnology to alter our brain from the inside. They removed our rebellious nature, dumbed down our intellect, increased our pleasure centers in size so that even now I want…”

Elite jumped at the human, unable to finish the talk.

“Tell me if something’s wrong,” the Martian breathed out.

With a snap of fingers she commanded her own clothes to disappear, with a second snap she made his clothes do the same. Then she put her right palm between Yuri’s legs, pressing the left palm hard against her own lips. Only now did Yuri understand what sort of “anatomic peculiarity” Caesar mentioned…

After some twenty minutes, which were truly some of the best in his life, Yuri found out that the imperial tessarakonteres’ doctor made some other adjustments to his body, ones considered necessary by the Empire.

“W-what… is this?!”

“Second organs are necessary, when the first ones are getting tired,” said Elite after taking a good breath. “But if it’s enough for now, we can continue tomorrow. Quite strange that the Emperor did not explain to you what is a part of an immortal’s biological standard.”

Yuri jumped off the bed and ran towards the window. For some reason he wanted to bash his head against the wall – maybe to finally wake up.

“Stop! It’s a membrane field portal! This is the Emperor’s palace, and some of his bodies can survive even jumping out into the clouds of Venus!” Elite used her mastery of portals and closed the window.

The magnificent view disappeared and Yuri’s head banged against hard steel. Nanites that filled the air immediately healed the scar, so that only very faint pain reminded Yuri of the collision after he got up. Sweat was running over Elite’s whole body, and it wasn’t only due to their recent intimacy.

“What in the bloody Multiversum are you doing?! If you died and it was partially my fault, I could be executed for negligently allowing my master to die!” she said.

“Elite,” Yuri spoke earnestly, looking at the Martian. “If I give you and Annunak…”

“And a hundred more slaves,” she added.

“…and a hundred more slaves freedom, will you be restored to your original, unaltered state?”

“They can do that,” Elite shrugged. “After all, free citizens of Rome may be whoever they desire. Even rebels. One voice cannot change anything. Even the whole Senate composed of AIs can’t change a damn thing! Citizens can even hate Rome with a passion. Run from it through millions of universes… a figure of speech, of course, since the Multiversum is such a thing that you’re always just one step, one portal away from Eternal Rome. Even if you don’t know about it, every uninhabited planet where a hermit citizen may settle will be put down and registered in the interdimensional network… Aren’t you a hermit already, kind of? This Venus was not visited by anyone for a long, long time, and Earth and Mars of this universe were burned out in Rome’s war with our civilization. We managed to destroy several legions!” she said and furtively licked her palm. “Sorry!”

“Never mind,” Yuri sighed. “Do it if you must, don’t be ashamed of yourself.”

“Thank you!” she smiled. “You know, there are even armed insurgents. If you dislike Rome so much, you can fight. Trouble is, the number of universes loyal to Rome is unfathomable. An uprising in one universe changes nothing – the Eternal Emperor shall destroy it and open up another one. So the insurgents have to take care of themselves, being ever vigilant as to not exceed the critical mass of protesters in any given universe… It’s a farce. Word has it, computers containing parts of the Eternal Emperor’s personality to restore him are present in every universe, on every battle starship…”

Elite licked her hand again and looked at Yuri from above:

“You just absolutely had to send him back in time, eh?”

“You should not have closed that portal,” said the ex-duke.

“And why’d you start caring about morals so much?” Elite said, indignant. “You were a warlord back on Earth, a slaveholder in all but name, you made war, shed the blood of others, you built a society not much better than Eternal Rome! And, eventually, you were the man who created Eternal Rome itself. Why are you ashamed of it now, huh?”

Yuri found himself at loss of words.

“Anyway, I’d better go take my nanite gloves that stimulate blood flowing away from my hands, otherwise they’re shaking from want all the time,” said Elite as if that was a routine thing. “You need me again, just call, but tell me straightaway if you need me in gloves or without them.”

Yuri only asked her to bring back the splendid view of Venus.

“You should remember that if you jump after I leave, you’ll die even with this body of yours. I won’t be charged for your death as I was not near you at the time, but of course they’ll transfer me to a new master. You seem to be an okay guy. At least, you and I have more in common than with that Emperor dude. So think about that and don’t do anything stupid,” said Elite as she was about to depart. “Caesar seems quite busy, so if you don’t kill yourself until morning, tomorrow I can give you a better tour of Eternal Rome.”

Last edited by K. A. Pital on 2015-04-26 07:16am, edited 2 times in total.
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K. A. Pital
 Post subject: Re: Overshoot
PostPosted: 2015-04-26 07:15am 

Glamorous Commie


Joined: 2003-02-26 12:39pm
Posts: 18063
Location: Chaos
***


Yuri the ex-duke, now a roman, started the next day by checking if the day before was real and not a dream. He learned how to use the interdimensional net – was a piece of cake, really. Next were the portals. The system informed Yuri quite politely by writing directly on his eye surface that his point of departure is the palace on Venus-1138. The man took Elite with him as a guide to Roman worlds. Some portals were permanent – on central worlds, where energy was being extracted without any limit from uninhabited universes, other ones could be opened by traveler request anywhere. The Martian girl was really a walking wealth of knowledge, and Yuri thanked Cleo for giving him such a slave on the inside, even though it felt wrong. They visited Earth-2, where they received from grim-looking red robots visitor passes to the factory and hazmat suits, they even visited the newly-conquered Initial Earth (Elite relayed Yuri the story of how just one imperial liburna wiped out all US airforce with quite some excitement, but he was not listening closely, just starting at the giant crater where Pentagon used to be). The imperial liburna was small enough to descend into the atmosphere, so from the giant windows of the tourist deck one could see the ground below and titanic robots with hundreds of limbs that scurried across the land.

“Hekatonkheires – or, as we call them, centimani,” Elite elucidated. “They are thrown on newly-captured worlds to do Romanization: installing interdimensional power plants, opening portals hundreds of kilometers wide that lead to Eternal Rome’s military worlds, filling the air and water of the planet with nanomachines.”

Hekatonkheires were not just crimson-colored – even from above Yuri could visibly discern the letters S.P.Q.R. on their immense hulls.

The following destination, at Elite’s insistence, was her home world, Mars. The capital of Mars, Olympus, could hardly be recognized after what Roman invaders did to it. The photos that Elite had shown to Yuri did not reflect the grim reality: almost naked humanoids running like crazy through the streets everywhere… The gloves that Elite had on her were a luxury most slaves could not buy. In place of a once great civilization was now just a free interdimensional brothel. The exquisite spires of Martian towers had such a reputation in the Empire that they were used as a symbol – Yuri and Elite saw them again and again on several Earths, five or ten Venuses and even on one of the Titans…

Next stop – a militarized Alpha Centauri, Yuri immediately forgot the six-digit number of its universe. All planets in the star system were covered by crimson ships which were slowly rusting away. In space whole packs of giant starships too big for atmospheric entry drifted everywhere. The star itself was encapsulated by an unfinished Dyson sphere.

“That was before they learned how to extract energy from uninhabitable universes,” spoke Elite with almost religious trepidation. “All ships, robots and everything here is hopelessly obsolete for warring with advanced civilizations, but could still be useful to subjugate barbarians, which occupy 90% of inhabitable universes.”

The hulls of military ships carried the radiation hazard sign right next to the tetragram. Yuri discovered that Christianity never even existed in the central worlds of Eternal Rome – the Emperor, or Roman the android, as he was known to Yuri, never allowed any religion to spread wide enough except some harmless pagan superstitions, and even this only among slaves. Powerful AIs, Rome’s scientific elite, were obviously above such foolishness. Only the Roman tetragram became somewhat a religious thing, as when recited in the net, it opened a direct portal to Eternal Rome.

The next planet was also captured recently, by Roman timeframe. After opening a narrow portal Elite first entered it herself and then waved her hand at Yuri, inviting him. They found themselves in a transparent sphere hanging low over the desert.

“Wellcome to the Jihadia coliseum,” a voice from out of nowhere spoke in the air. “Your language is determined as Rusian (Earth-1).”

“It seems, they have not yet uploaded the latest voice command interface update here,” Elite said. “But the differences between these two languages are almost nonexistent anyway.”

“Coliseum?” Yuri noticed some people in white garbs running through the desert.

It seemed as if they were playing some strange game. One of them approached a group of five other men and… exploded into bloody dust. The others, thrown away by the blast wave, exploded soon thereafter, in merely a few seconds.

“This world was discovered in the year 2000 from the Foundation of Rome,” Elite in here white dress and white gloves looked dazzling beautiful, so Yuri missed part of the explanation. “The Caliphate captured the entire Earth in this reality already in the Middle Ages. Of course, this was followed by a schism, a civil war between various sects began and lasted for centuries, sometimes dying down, sometimes flaring anew. When Roman forces arrived at this planet, the Emperor on his whim decided not to conquer this world. He commanded to flood the air with nanomachines and start altering the inhabitants’ biology: their intellect was lowered, while their bodies were turned into living bombs that could be triggered by a mere thought of killing oneself. And there were plenty of reasons for suicide…”

Some aborigines, a pair of boys, noticed the transparent sphere and ran towards it. Yuri shrinked back instinctively. The locals blew themselves up right next to the glass, spattering half the ball with blood. The imperial machine immediately burned the blood off by an accurate wave of plasma over its surface, remaining clean and perfectly unsullied. Only a red blot on the sand reminded of the unlucky jihadists.

“We give you our sorries!” the sphere spoke.

“It’s reinforced carbon fiber plastic,” Elite calmed her human master down. “Worry not.”

Yuri asked Elite to open a portal to anywhere as soon as possible, just to leave the place. They left Jihadia for Hedonia, formerly Earth-29. Mars seemed awkward to Yuri, but at least he could understand it – unlike Hedonia. Staying on Hedonia was only possible in breathing masks, which Yuri and Elite received at one of the entry airlocks from a courteous robot midget, who looked like a mechanical ape.

“Be careful,” the tiny automaton warned them. “If you take off your masks, we will have to dispatch a unit to find you. Of course, you can sign a renunciation right now, so that we will not have to do the search, and give me your masks back… This is the planet of oblivion. They come here to erase memories, change personality, get lost forever and forget Rome…”

Yuri looked at Elite. She shrugged.

“Maybe that’s what you need?”

They exited the airlock. Fog streamed through a dense megaflora jungle. Here androids and cyborgs were roaming, as well as humans, reptiloids and other biots. And the biots were the ones that behaved strangely: they spoke to nothingness at random, started arguing about weird things and cried. Some were just lying on the ground, eyes wide open.

“A mix of potent drugs fills the atmosphere,” Elite said. “Even the immortals sometimes grow weary, and this cocktail can completely alter your personality. It is cheaper and easier than paying a bioprogrammer, though the outcome here is completely unpredictable. And as for tired runaway slaves, they often find their way here. On this planet even the vilest masters, as it happens, do not have the heart to order further pursuit of their escaped slaves.”

When they walked several hundred meters away from the airlock and stumbled upon a gap in the low-lying fog, semi-transparent Cato suddenly materialized in front of them.

“Hello,” he greeted Yuri and gave a short nod to Elite.

“Well, ave you,” the former duke gave the visitor a polite bow, since last night he actually read some history books and at least understood who was the dead man before him.

“Stop playing fool,” the AI frowned. “Well, have you realized now?”

“I have,” Yuri said, adding a hem. “So what?”

“Don’t like it?”

“Not that much,” Yuri glanced at Elite. “It would have been better if these guys won in the war against Rome.”

“Surely you understand that this is impossible now. But we can still set things straight.”

“How?” Elite interjected, shaking her head. “And by the way, no one called you here. You are endangering me with your presence, Cato.”

“You see, the universe that you had created with your ill-considered act… it cannot be changed at all. That’s the truth. And any jump back in time is just the creation of another universe. I tried… But there’s a law, called Collapsing Utility of New Timeleapers, shortly CUNT. You see, Rome already has most of the universes which are known and accessible at the basic technology level under its thumb… My Egyptians could capture ten universes, but then they had to confront Rome. Your friend Roman has used the engines of his starships to suck out the energy from these inhabited universes after he understood it was my fault that Ra’s warriors met his legionaries with a hail of lasers… A complete failure, it was,” Cato began to tell his story.

“I hope you have at least protected this connection?” Elite grumbled. “Would be most disappointing if others in the Senate hear these stories of yours.”

“It’s well protected. Quantum cryptography, don’t you fret,” snorted Cato with contempt. “Go lick your hand if you’re that full of worry. We need cold minds right now.”

“Caesar can find your computing center and destroy it if you cross the line,” warned Elite.

“The threats made by this former slave of mine are quite real,” agreed Cato without even turning his face towards the woman. “But I have as many computing centers as there are grains of sand on the beach. Let us move on, human. The universes are connected. And there might be a way that I haven’t considered before. We need no one else but you, because it was you who sent Caesar back from the initial universe. If we could establish a transtemporal link between the current you, who has seen the Empire, and you in the past, if we could send back to your past a message that would destroy the whole line of consequences as a line of dominos…”

“And what should we do for that to happen?” asked Yuri, feeling that there’s only more trouble waiting around the corner.

“First we have to find Gibelman’s time capsule,” Cato squinted. “I and my friends Brutus and Cicero will help you to reach Earth-0.”

“Earth-0?” Elite jumped up from shock. “You dead jokers are out of your mind! Caesar has forgiven you a lot, but for this he will erase you!”

“Better be erased than suffer tyranny,” Cato recited with pathos. “I have been tolerating the tyrant for five hundred years already – and now that’s just crossing the line, as you have said. But we can outsmart him. The last five hundred years he has been expanding his mind only with military strategy blocks, because he’s constantly waging his eternal war. But in civil affairs he is getting dumber and dumber yet…”

“What’s this Earth-0?” Yuri interrupted the senator.

“Earth-0 is the original world where your android has really landed after the jump,” Cato has drawn a convoluted holographic schematic in the air. “A closed-off universe, a closed-off planet. That’s where they keep Gibelman’s chronosphere. That real Rome was destroyed by a nuclear war when Caesar first opened the portals in the 12th century F.E.R. What he has shown you, Earth-1, is just a reconstruction, the chronosphere they keep in the Grand Museum is just a copy. One cannot enter Earth-0 through ordinary portals since it has been stricken from the interdimensional net. That’s a place which you can only reach on a war starship. These things can open portals themselves to wherever one wants.”

“And where shall we find a warship that’s stupid enough to betray Caesar?” Elite still had little trust in Cato and his plan.

“There is a little planet… As you know already, most universes are uninhabitable, and among the potentially habitable most are lifeless, empty. Some of these universes Rome has captured just to make warehouses of them. Usually each is guarded by just one warship… In the universe of Earth-500879 there are differences to the chemical composition of stars, differences which degrade the robots’ positronic brains,” Cato looked at Elite. “Now, open the portal.”

“What, you are planning to do it now?” Yuri was taken aback.

“It’s now or never!” Cato raised his gaze to the sky. “Brutus and Cicero are holding the encryption for now, but Cleo has put her AIs to break through the firewall. We had the time to build a real Great Wall in this virtual space, earthling. You really want to ruin all our effort by your sluggishness and dullness?”

“Not really, no,” replied Yuri politely and turned to Elite, but the woman was already busy opening the portal.


***


His Royal Majesty’s fifty-kilometer flagship was nearing the Utica system, formerly known as Earth-40000. The whole planet was covered with datacenters, all of them connected to the interdimensional net. The planet was uninhabited and yet alive.

“Cato, Brutus and Cicero,” Roman Caesar Augustus stood next to his partner Cleo on the bridge of the megastarship, looking at the glowing planet sphere on the front screen. “I know you can hear me. I also know your minds are spread across the Multiversum just as mine is, so it is not in my power to kill you. However I also know that this particular computing center holds a lot of your memories, knowledge, tricks and logical blocks… I can injure you to such an extent that you’ll become retards! You hear me? You were the gods of this reality, that is how generous and magnanimous I was! And you repay me by betraying me yet again!”

“I told you that you had to ice these old dead fools way before they could spread their minds across a million planets,” Cleo hissed. “You were foolish too!”

“Ave Caesar!” spoke a five-meter tall red robot, the battleship’s avatar, and sat down next to the rulers of Eternal Empire. “What are your orders, sire?”

“They are not responding,” Roman looked to the cosmic abyss behind the planet’s bright contours. “Is the report on their betrayal completely trustworthy, Cornelius?”

“Could not be more trustworthy, commander,” the robot shrugged, metal rattling terribly. “And I haven’t seen a firewall like this since childhood.”

“Main caliber, open fire,” the Eternal Emperor whispered. “Alea iacta est.”

“I hear and I obey,” the robot sat motionless for several seconds while the ship’s brain was calculating the interdimensional cannon’s launch parameters. “Launching the Devourer of Universes. Utica and its surroundings will be completely annihilated in 3… 2… 1…”

The warship sucked out only a tiny fraction of the energy that was raging in the chaotic universes, but it was more than enough: Utica and its moon, which the senators turned into a gigantic radio telescope, were pulverized. Not even asteroids remained after the explosion.

“High-energy particles approaching,” noted the avatar robot calmly. “I am opening a portal to Deimos-778083.”

The massive ship instantly dove into a portal that opened before it, escaping certain death. Caesar rose, called Cleo to his side and left the ship’s bridge through a small portal that led directly into the Senate hall.

That hall was empty, but as soon as the Eternal Emperor stepped in, blue holograms filled the seats. Thousands and thousands of artificial intelligences created by Caesar, based on long-deceases humans.

“Aha!” Roman noticed that Cato, Cicero and Brutus also appeared in the hall. “I see you have survived. That delights me. I would not want to lose my old friends like this.”

“Your cheap tricks are nothing to us!” said Cicero, full of pride. “You could have burned down a whole barbarian civilization with that blast, but not us!”

“But tell me, Cicero,” a sinister smile distorted the Emperor’s face. “How can you plot a path in an eleven-dimensional space using just space and balls?”

The senator remained silent.

“Or read me some of your ithkuil poetry!”

And once again Cicero remained silent.

“Oh dear me,” Cleo giggled darkly and clung to her partner. “But these are tasks for elementary school kids, Cicero! Oh wise ones, how low have you fallen!”

Some senators joined the mocking laughter, others sympathetically patted the injured AIs on their transparent shoulders.

“Now that the traitors are punished, Cleo, I sincerely hope your men will break the firewall,” the android ruler gave the woman a stern gaze. “Go and return only with good news. Meanwhile, I and the Senate have a war to discuss.”

The hetaera nodded slightly, throwing one last abasing look at the traitor trio, and then left the room via a portal, her hips shaking so that some AIs had to turn away their confused faces.

“So, the war,” Caesar opened a giant window in the air in front of the Senate, showing a diagram: a 90% red-filled circle. “Of the universe known to us at this stage, nine out of ten are considered uninhabitable, and we use them as energy sources. The other, potentially habitable universes, also share the same proportion: nine out of ten are lifeless. And there’s a tiny percentage of universes which are completely inaccessible to us. We assumed that these universes are simply very young universes, which in time will become another energy source. But in the light of recent scientific discoveries we cannot be so sure anymore. What if they are not full of primordial chaos?”

“What then?” asked Gaius Octavius. “We assume that the inaccessible universes just differ too much from the mature ones… As even a small difference in basic laws of physics excludes a universe from the list of potentially habitable ones, we have come to the conclusion that only universes with similar physics can support sentient life.”

“Perhaps the laws of physics are so different that our portals simply cannot be opened,” the emperor spoke darkly. “These universes may hide beings with technologies incomprehensible to us. Have you ever considered this?”

“So how do we fight something we cannot see or know?” Octavius laughed. “Seems like a fight in two dark rooms where fighters are separated by a wall. Except one of them has the key to the other’s room, but for some reason refuses to enter.”

“Such universes are few and far between,” Caesar noted. “The logic of the species’ struggle will help us here. If they knew about us, saw what we are doing and had the ability to destroy us, they would do it. So there are several options: one is that they don’t know about us, in which case their level of development is so low that they’re no threat to us. We just need to find a way to change these inaccessible universes into accessible ones, from which we can extract our energy. Alternatively, they know about us but cannot destroy us. In this case the end conclusion is the same. You have to concentrate your computing powers on turning inaccessible universes into our possessions, then.”

The AIs nodded understandingly.

“The Caesar’s wisdom is limitless like the Multiversum itself!”

“All hail our Emperor!”

“Glory to Rome Eternal!”

Suddenly Cleo returned into the hall. Her hands were visibly shaking.

“Remove the traitors from this session!” she cried out.

The holograms of three rebel AIs flickered and disappeared as soon as Caesar waved his hand at them.

“The hall is now protected,” she said after a minute passed, restoring her calm. “You all are geniuses, just like Caesar. But I have a different suggestion for the application of our immense computing powers, esteemed senators. Please, hear me out! It is truly a matter of life and death…”


***


Cato sighed.

“Too bad. My memories of swimming in the methane lakes of Titan-990205 were in these datacenters. Brutus is sad, too.”

Yuri and Elite were plodding on through the lifeless surface of a dead planet in protective suits, ascending to the ridge of a wide crater. It was a version of Earth where Theia never struck the planet, and the Moon never even came to be.

“We are almost there,” Cato smiled. “Worry not, frail bioti! Our firewall is not so easy to breach, whatever Roman and Cleo may think. Even the destruction of Utica is a regrettable but hardly critical hindrance on our way… May I introduce you to His Royal Majesty’s dromon, Drunk Dionysus.

On the stony surface deep down the crater they saw the dromon of Eternal Rome, a half-kilometer long crimson cone. The aggressive environment of this planet left its marks on him: the armor plates were streaked with grooves from acid rains.

“Ah, Cato, old friend!” the ship rumbled from afar, so loud that the sound easily penetrated the protective suits. “You brought new friends with you?”

“I have, Dionysus.”

“Who’re they? Senators? Centurions? Bigwigs, eh?” the ship croaked and moved, shooting up dust. “I am not in my best shape! You could’ve at least warned me in advance!”

For five minutes the ship was raising waves of rubble and clouds of dust, executing some weird hull transformations. When the dust settled, a cyclopean robot with uncountable manipulators stood in front of them, the hands protruding from the front. The robot’s head was crowned by a giant golden eagle, and in the middle of his chest, surrounded by dozens of short and long hands, was a massive steel plate that read S.P.Q.R.

“Centiman!” muttered Yuri. “So that’s how Rome maintains access to these forsaken universes…”

“Well, us guys are quite multifunctional,” the warship’s voice was like thumping metal. “I like this form better, though my eagle’s gilding lost its former splendour…”

“Can they ascend to the bridge?” asked Cato politely. “Dionysus, buddy, we’re duly impressed, but we’re really short on time, too.”

“Too bad!” the machine hurled one of its massive fists on the crater ridge some hundred meters away from the travelers, demolishing the mound. “I just found myself a new gaiety. You grab a boulder, go to a volcano and throw that boulder with all your strength right into its mouth. I call this vulcanball! Heh, if only my brother from the fifth legion was here, or even our entire platoon… We’d make a game to remember!..”

“Dionysus,” Cato returned the dreaming warship back into reality. “Let us see your shot from downtown some other time, eh?”

“There shall not be another time,” Dionysus growled. “I may be a dumb old warship, but even I can understand what you are planning.”

“Why are you helping us then?” Yuri asked.

“I’m bored,” rattled the ship’s voice. “I hold a grievance against the Emperor. You know, I’ve conquered five thousand universes…”

“Half of them uninhabited,” Cato interjected.

“But the other half was inhabited by such fierce barbarians that you’d piss your servers from fear!” replied Dionysus in kind. “I fought with the Eternal Emperor’s name on my lips… I spent eight years of my eternal life for a dull spaceflight even, delivering portal gates from the Sun to Alpha Centauri in some backwards universe. And then he sent me here… All for what? Because a stupid bug in my software made be err and start drinking energy from an inhabited universe… Oh how drunk I was on that day! What computing powers I had at my disposal, you cannot even imagine, you biotic punks! But Cato understands me, surely. We have our own forms of alcoholism. Anyway, some androids kicked the bucket thanks to my error, and I’ve blasted two or three solar systems into oblivion… What next? Court-martial, of course, but you can’t put a war hero in prison… so they invented this banishment for me.”

A fearful Yuri looked at the centiman.

“Bah! Fear not, small fry!” the centiman reached out with his hand, and in its palm an airlock door opened. “Cato’s right. Revenge is a dish that’s best served cold, but losing time is not an option.”


***


The ex-duke learned on his own skin that imperial dromons were not designed to house bioti… except for slaves. He and Elite had to sit in the ship’s trophy hold: naked steel walls and no amenities - except for soft floor made from some synthetic material, and even that was made to save money on furniture like seats and beds.

“Apologies for the inconvenience, lil’ ones,” said the dromon right before releasing nanobots into space in front of the ship’s bow.

They opened the portal in a few minutes.

“It could be guarded,” Cato, Brutus and Cicero were now all present in the hold, and Cicero was the one to speak. “Once you enter Universe-0 we’ll vanish and no longer have the ability to help you. Elite knows what to do next, so just follow her orders, Yuri. Elite, you have the most critical part of the plan on you!”

The Martian girl gave the AIs a proud nod.

“Well, may the probabilities favor you!” Cicero hugged the woman with his transparent hands. “Farewell!”

The senators disappeared as soon as the dromon’s bow crossed the border between worlds. Now the powerful AIs could not longer protect them, a doom thought crossed Yuri’s mind when Earth-0 was already on their observation screen.

“You are nearing an uninhabited world of the Eternal Roman Empire, number 9-5-8…” a hoarse voice sounded in their cabin. “What is the goal of your presence in this military warehouse?”

“That’s our goal,” the dromon fired all weapons without warning, turning everything on the planetary orbit into space rubble. “I may be an old soldier, but from all my battles I’ve learned one tactical trick: in open space there’s no way to hide. First strike ensures victory with almost complete certainty. And now, my little biots, we have to quickly make a dangerous jump…”

The Drunk Dionysus opened another portal in front of himself and dove into another world: for a second the screens had shown them a beautiful sparkling nebula somewhere in deep space, and then they returned back to Earth-0, jumping out deep down in the atmosphere.

“We are above the chronosphere,” the fifth legion’s dromon hurled down his manipulator, tearing apart the ruins of an old city which looked remarkably similar to XX century Rome from Yuri’s universe. “I hope Cato was right, because we only have five minutes before interplanetary lasers hit us… The main guards are sitting next to Jupiter in this system.”

Yuri could see a very familiar device among the brick-stone rubble on the warship’s crimson palm.

“That’s it!” he shouted. “It’s the timeship!”

Elite let out a sigh of relief.

“No need to shout, I know that just as you do,” the dromon already moved to some other universe.

Now they were deep, deep underwater.

“What are you doing?” Yuri hit the steel wall with his fist. “Why’d you jump out?”

“Huh? Because we need to get to Initial Earth now,” the warship explained in a mundane manner.

Cato appeared for a second in their hold, flickering.

“Now Caesar has released all his dogs for pursuit!” he shouted to Yuri. “It’s gonna be fun!”

And the Drunk Dionysus started making jump after jump between universes, accelerating each time. The stars on the observation screen turned into thin lines.

“Near lightspeed,” the ship was humming some Latin song to himself. “Seems like we’ve shaken them off. They cannot predict totally random jumps. Total randomness is beyond even the power of gods! It’s much harder than finding a needle in the hay. Now listen carefully, bioti. Now you throw yourselves down a small portal. I will send the time machine to the same spot, a bit earlier. You will find yourselves on Initial Earth, if I won’t miss. And why’d I miss? My portal module is fully intact.”

“Throw yourselves” didn’t mean they should do anything, Yuri understood after the dromon opened the portal under them, making them fall out into some bunker. The walls were full of English inscriptions. Gibelman’s time machine was already put in place next to them.

“Get inside the chronosphere!” Elite said, taking off her gloves and licking her palms in desperation. “I will launch it from a panel next to the hatch. I know how to do it.”

“I… wanted to ask what’s the reason for you having these things on your palms?” suddenly asked the human.

“What, you couldn’t guess yourself? Mars was a lot more cruel than Earth. Sometimes our race only had enough time for a handshake,” Elite laughed.

Yuri made a step towards the time machine, but then hesitated.

“My shaman… ahem, I mean my advisor, he said that humans cannot survive the jump…”

“He was right,” Elite looked at Yuri as if he said something unimaginably stupid. “You will not survive the jump. We are talking only about a tiny chance to establish a transtemporal connection that will transfer your memories from now to the past you in this very universe.”

“What if I don’t want to die?” asked Yuri, reflecting on what he heard just now.

“Then you ask the interplanetary network, input the coordinates of Venus-1138,” said Elite with indifference. “Tell your old pal where this time machine is. And maybe he will spare your life. But unlikely, if he finds out just how big a threat you pose to the entire Empire.”

The former duke realized how hopeless his situation was. As usual, all this smartass jabbering was hiding some dirty trick underneath, some chaw that won’t let him even save his ass this time. It was strangely quiet inside the time ship. For some reason the duke fastened his seat belt. Hell knows… Could it still be that Cato and everyone else are wrong, and he may still survive it?

Elite waved her hand in front of the tiny porthole.

“It was fun knowing you!” she said, typing some software corrections on the hatch control screen.


***


The duke of All Muscovite Rus woke up in cold sweat. Are my hands still there? Yep. Legs? Still I place. Okay, let’s check them organs… First organ – there. The second one… also there. Eyes still there, too. The man rummaged around the bed.

“Ouch!” his hand hit something heavy.

It was Kynthia, his girlfriend, a Roman citizen who for some weird reason developed a liking for the bioti. As usual, Kynthia just dropped her switched-off mechanical body without even asking the home owner’s permission. What a she-devil, that girl! After rummaging around some more, Yuri also found a sleeping Elite. The Martian woman breathed deeply; feeling her breath helped Yuri to calm down. He woke his slave up by pulling her a bit.

“Elite! Elite…”

“Uh?” she opened her eyes. “Why are you waking me up in the middle of the night? Have you gathered enough money to telomerize me already?”

“No, it’s something else,” Yuri opened the portal-window to look at the turbulent venereal clouds. “I had a nightmare.”

“Oh, that happens sometimes,” she smiled. “Just look at Kynthia! Switched off, I see. Probably having fun in some other body somewhere else in the endless Multiversum. She never sleeps, never has nightmares. Now tell me, is it not frustratingly crappy, being a biot?”

“Well, being a biot is certainly better than being dead, at the very least! Ah… feels good to know it was just a bad dream!” Yuri fell down back into the bed.

The palace was floating over Ishtar Terra. The house computer could feel the owner’s desires, and the screen wall started displaying the view from above. From the balloon cameras high above the Eternal Emperor’s palace seemed a tiny flying saucer lost in the giant waves of this cloud ocean.


***


The Eternal Emperor sat next to a volcanic crater. A giant rock fell flopped down into the magma from above. Splashes of molten lava didn’t hit the android only due to sheer luck.

“A shot from downtown!” said Caesar Augustus, laughing.

“It’s very nice of you to find the time to see me,” Drunk Dionysus landed on the mountain’s summit in one giant leap.

The Eternal Emperor looked at his old centiman.

“I shall pay for repairing your positronic brain, as well as for another reserve computing center on Arkaim-16, and I shall open in honor of a century of your continuous watch here one of the universes from the state reserve, and open accounts of the national bank of Rome. Drink as much as you please, and get drunk, my comrade! Don’t forget to raise a toast to my health!”

“Ave Caesar!” the robot bumped his manipulator fist against the chest plate, slightly bending the letter R. “My gratitude!”

“That is an order!” commanded Caesar. “Now fly, my dromon!”

The warship transformed back into spaceship form and opened a portal over the volcano. When it left the nameless planet, a tiny portal opened: Cleo and some senators came out of it.

“Everything went as smooth as possible,” said Caesar, his face alight with a wide smile. “You, my friends, have mastered adjusting universal probabilities quite in time, shall we say!”

“It was my idea,” said Cleo, a bit shy, and lowered her eyes. “But I am also grateful to all members of the Senate who donated their computing power to this daunting task at a very dangerous moment in the history of our Empire.”

“You were right. I was blinded, consumed by war, while you were keeping my back as always! Our strength was never in this very unlikely, improbable event that occurred on Initial Earth… Our strength is in making the probability of this even close to absolute. So that someone, somewhere, in one of the universes, would always send back an android to change the past. And your program of infecting universes with alternate history science fiction was just pure genius!” the Eternal Emperor opened up a young universe, one of those that he had been saving for himself for many years, and he felt how the stream of energy was blowing him away, allowing his mind to hover in such heights which no mortal being could ever achieve. “Yum! This universe is so savory! I swear on the tetragram, you have never tried such a wondrous combination of elementary particles. Join me, my friends!”

On that day all of them got so tight from drinking out this universe that even the Eternal Emperor’s body could no longer move, lying down in a pile of stone rubble and singing a song: “The slaves’ lives may be fleeting, but shines Eternal Rome! But shines Eternal Rome!”
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