Saturday, August 24, 2019

Gatewood: Project Topdown (Part II)

The year is 2240, and it’s time to send the galaxy-class telescope arrays into the void. Eleven telescopes will work in tandem with each other to develop and deliver a clear picture of the entire Milky Way from one side of the relatively flat spiral galaxy. Another array of eleven will be on the other side, doing the exact same thing. This is all necessary so that the Project Stargate ships that are being sent in the next ten years have an idea where they’re going, and where they will be landing their seed plates. The two twin gamma ray detectors are responsible primarily for identifying obstacles, like supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes. These pose a danger to the ships, and might prompt course corrections to avoid them. The X-ray detector’s sole job is to catalogue the galaxy’s pulsars, by which the ships can navigate. If you can find the nearest pulsar, you always know where you are. Three optical telescopes, and two ultraviolet telescopes, work together to seek stars and their orbital bodies, so the quantum network can be mapped. The microwave telescope and radio telescope can help map the Milky Way too, but will mostly be looking for signals that could indicate the presence of intelligent life. The Stargate ships themselves are armed with such equipment as well, in case a particular star system needs to be ignored, or studied more thoroughly. The infrared telescope is the only one that isn’t really part of any of this. It’s going to be facing the opposite direction, just checking out the other galaxies, and relaying this data back to Gatewood.
Kestral, Ishida, and Saxon were not the ones who came up with Project Topdown. Nor did they even design the original plans. The public would be completely all right with the idea of mapping the galaxy from the outside, so the only reason they don’t know about it is because it’s too connected to Project Stargate, which is less socially acceptable. That’s why this is all being done on Gatewood, rather than back home. As Team Keshida was looking over the designs, they realized there were a few flaws. Long ago, Earth came up with the four pillars of spaceflight, which were Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, and Modularization. The engineers for Topdown did not appear to have taken these to heart, so Keshida needed to make some adjustments. Every telescope in both arrays is important to the mission. Take one away, and the whole endeavor could be lost. The idea is to send these into quite empty space, with the nearest celestial body being thousands of light years away. If something goes wrong, there is no way to affect repairs, and this is not an acceptable possibility.
To solve these problems, Ishida practically scrapped the plans they were given, and engineered new ones. Companion ships will fly parallel to the telescope ships, equipped exclusively with replacement parts, raw materials, and mega-format industrial synthesizers. These will also deposit specialized seed plates on the border systems, so if all else fails, at least the project can go on eventually. She wasn’t the only one who worked on this. Their friend, Weaver, who had gone off with Mateo on the AOC, helped build special temporal components. She invented a teleportation shield, so that any debris in one of the ship’s paths will be instantly transported hundreds of meters away, safely away from the vessel. It appears that everything is ready to go, and today is meant to be the launch date, but Kestral isn’t so confident.
“Are we sure everything’s done?”
“I went over the checklist a million times,” Ishida assures her.
“I checked a million more,” Saxon adds. His arrival prompted them to rename themselves Team Keshidon.
“We have no time for hyperbole,” Kestral complains. “How many times did you each go over every single thing in the preflight book?”
Ishida sighs. “Over the last year? Seven and a half.”
“Why half?”
“I had to poop.”
“Be serious, Ishida.”
“I am serious, Kestral. This isn’t just your baby; it’s all of ours.”
“Less so mine,” Saxon admits. He only just arrived a few years ago.
“I understand that,” Kestral says to Ishida. “I’m not trying to diminish your contribution. Far from it. I’m the one who only went over the list twice, and I’m kind of freaking out about it.”
“Do you wanna wait another year?” Ishida asks.
“Could we?”
“No,” Ishida answers plainly. “This is happening. I can’t promise you that we’ve thought of everything, but I can tell you we added a hell of a lot more redundancies than the dumbasses who came up with this.”
“Yeah, I know,” Kestral acknowledges. “Do you feel like there are too few people here?” She looks around the command center. “I mean, there are only three of us. This is the biggest thing humans have ever done, and we don’t have a team? Why don’t we have a full team?”
“You’re spiraling, love.” Ishida places a hand on Kestral’s shoulder. “Our full team is humongous. We had three artificial general intelligences working various problems, and making calculations. Still more AI entities have been uploaded into the ships. They’re going to take care of everything en route. Our job is done.”
“What about the AI? Did we check the code? Are we sure there isn’t some huge bug? Or a virus. What if there’s a virus?”
“Who would have written a virus, and how would they have gotten it here?”
“Don’t look at me,” Saxon says defensively, even though they made no indication that they suspected him of anything nefarious.
“The refugees,” Kestral poses. “There are billions of them. We don’t know who they are.”
“The refugees?” Ishida asks. “These are the same refugees who came from a universe where they lived partly underground, and couldn’t even have electricity, or the evil white monsters that also lived on the planet might detect their presence? You think one of them is a hacker?”
“Okay, well what about the Maramon refugees? They were here awhile before they flew off to colonize a new home world.”
“Kestral,” Ishida says. “Stop making dumb suggestions.
“There is no such thing, my mother always said.”
“Your mother was stupid,” Ishida reminds her. She isn’t being mean. Kestral’s family was what the Earthans would call noncontributives. After money was abolished, and automation took over the world, people no longer needed to work. A citizen has the right to certain amenities, like a place to live, and food to eat. They do not need to do anything to earn these rights. They’re simply provided. Anyone who chooses to work—in some capacity—which may be nothing more than occasionally helping to design virtual constructs or simulations—is afforded other conveniences. They have access to any of these authorized virtual realities, they can travel anywhere in the solar system, and they can apply for relocation to an exoplanet, among other things.
Kestral’s parents chose to do nothing. They spent their days sitting around their arcunit, watching virtual entertainment that was converted to basic holography, and sometimes going for walks outside. Kestral had to seek out higher education, and eventually had no choice but to estrange herself from them. Plenty of noncontributives were perfectly fine individuals, but they at least got out and socialized. The McBrides didn’t even vote for their governmental representatives. Even noncontributives have the right to longevity treatments to give themselves very long lives, but the bare minimum requirement is first exercising their right to vote. They both died of age-related diseases several years ago, according to an automated quantum message Kestral received, but of course, she couldn’t have attended a service if she wanted to.
“I’m sorry. What were we talking about?” Kestral is the poster child for the absent-minded professor. She regularly gets lost in her own thoughts, and people around her either have to pull her back to reality, or just wait for her to come back on her own.
“You were really excited about launch day,” Saxon jokes, knowing she’s not an idiot, and doesn’t actually believe this. He continues, “you wanted to push the big red button yourself. I could get you one, if you want; it won’t do anything, but you can time it so it’s like you’re controlling the launch.”
“Ha-ha,” Kestral says in monotone. “I’m just doing my due diligence. I don’t think I’m asking too much.”
“You have been incredibly reasonable during this entire process,” Ishida says. “We have all done a great job here. Though it will be centuries before anything really comes of this, we should be proud of ourselves; you included,” she says preemptively, before Saxon can remind them yet again that he’s the new kid on the block. “A great writer is no good without a great editor to check their work. Your due diligence, and attention to detail was incredibly helpful. My God, you polished a lens once with a handrag.”
“I was bored, and wanted to see how difficult and tedious it would be,” Saxon explains.
“What was the verdict?” Kestral questions.
“Guilty on all charges,” he answers.
Ishida smiles, and takes a look at her watch. “The ships are scheduled to leave in eighty-three minutes. We need to depart in eleven if we want to get good seats.”
“Has anyone done a preflight checklist for our observation vessel?” Kestral asks in feigned urgency. She’s finally starting to feel like she can relax. The ships are indeed leaving in an hour and a half. If something were to go wrong, it’s pretty much impossible to stop it now. They have no choice but to wait, watch, and hope.
Saxon recognized it was a joke, but replies with the truth anyway, “I did, yes.”
“Does anyone want popcorn?” Kestral offers.
“Gross. No, thanks.”
They boarded their little ship, which was mostly clear, so as to see nearly all sides out of it. They flew away from their centrifugal cylinder, and headed towards the midway point between it, and the shipyards. From here, they watched all ships for Project Topdown fly off to the intergalactic voids. One went for the top...and the other went down. Everything went flawlessly, and for the next four years after that, they reported nothing but smooth sailing. Then something strange happened.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Microstory 1175: Tonya Keyes

The powerful Prestons, originally living in a different dimension, were born to serve the timeline. They weren’t helpless salmon, but they were created for the purpose of protecting the timeline from paradoxes, and other inconsistencies, or just because certain butterfly effects were considered undesirable in the new timeline. Until Zeferino rebelled, they didn’t really have that much understanding of what it would mean to make their own choices, so they never tried. Tonya Keyes possessed similar abilities to loose cannon, Arcadia, but she was a choosing one, which meant she never had to do anything she didn’t want to do. The first few years of Tonya’s life were pretty normal. If any inconsistencies popped up in that time, she might have ignored them as a typical feature of reality, or simply didn’t notice. Once she was old enough to realize that people weren’t seeing things the way she saw them, she started to question this reality. She discovered that people were going back in time, and making changes to the timeline, yet her memory remained intact. If they, for instance, with knowledge of how a given company was going to do, shorted a company’s stock, she could tell how that impacted the market. She wasn’t the only temporal manipulator with what’s known as multi-real perception, but other than Arcadia, she was the only one who could do anything about it. It took some practice, but she developed the ability to access those old realities. Not only that, but she could extract parts of an old timeline, and splice it into the current timeline, without having to accept the entire thing. She wasn’t just undoing the changes the time travelers made; she was making more changes. She was picking and choosing which changes took hold. Let’s say, because of how terrible that stock did, the president of the company commits suicide. Well, there’s a reality out there where he didn’t do that, because some other time traveler created a reality where the stock did okay, which was only later negated. Remember, these people are making these changes all the time, and it’s almost impossible to track all of them. Tonya could retain the bad stock, but bring in the reality where the president survives. She could even alter the president’s perception, so he doesn’t question the disconnect between the current outcome, and his memory of it. She came to be known as The Stitcher, and she made a lot of pretty random alterations to the timeline before anyone approached with the idea to do something good with her power.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Microstory 1174: Juan Ponce de León

Famous explorer, Juan Ponce de León lived in the late fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries. But he also lived in an incalculably high number of other time periods. When he arrived on the Florida coast, he was surprised to find another apparent westerner waiting for him there. The woman spoke of the Fountain of Youth, which up until that point, Juan had never heard of. Still, he was curious, so he broke from his crew, and set about on a journey through the wilderness. Upon reaching what was supposedly his destination, he discovered what appeared to be a dried up river bed. At first he was discouraged, not in disappointment for having missed out on a magical elixir that could make him immortal, but because he felt a fool for having believed it existed in the first place. Just to be safe, however, he decided to dig, but did not intend to go very deep. Perhaps the water was deep underground. He just kept thinking that he only need scoop out one more handful, and water would spring forth. It never did, but he did eventually come across a compass. It must have been buried there for a long time, but it was in pristine condition. Curious, he started fiddling with the device, and after awhile, a rectangular light appeared before him, as if he had created it. Curiouser still, he pushed forward, and stepped into the light, where he found himself face to face with a bus. The bus was not moving, so he was in no danger, but he had no clue what this magnificent structure was. He looked around, and discovered there to be dozens of other buses like it, all in a row. He walked a little farther, until he came upon the road, where similar vehicles were ferrying their passengers to various destinations. He continued to do what he does best, and explored this strange new world, quickly learning this to be hundreds of years in the future. He only stopped when he finally encountered a library, where he could learn almost everything he wanted to know about what had happened to the world after he’d left it.

When he wasn’t studying the books, Juan was studying his new compass. Over time, he learned to navigate this special time object, and moved all across time and space, meeting all sorts of interesting people. Other time travelers started calling him The Navigator, which he had to admit, he quite liked. He learned several languages, beheld beautiful things, and witnessed terrible tragedies. He kept fairly detailed journals of his experiences, but even he didn’t quite know how long he had been gone from home. The possibility of a Fountain of Youth continued to nag at him, and he felt compelled to learn more about it. Certain other travelers believed it to be real, in some form, but even they thought the immortality water was just too difficult to procure. Yet he persisted in his search. Many times, some of the ingredient waters were in his grasp, but he had to give it up, to help others, or because he wouldn’t be able to find all of the ingredients in time. Each one was in a different place and time, and would go bad if they weren’t all found before the timer ran out. Following what must have been years from his perspective, Juan decided to create a map. He sought out each ingredient independently, but did not take any. Instead, he simply confirmed its authenticity, and then moved onto the next, until he had a clear picture of everything he would need. Then, he got a good night’s rest, tied his sweet kicks, and set about on his journey. He literally ran through the continuum, opening portals like a pro, and never stopping until he had checked off the entire list. His efforts proved fruitful, when he drank the waters, and became truly immortal. So now, Juan Ponce de León could never be killed, but that still left him with a terrible conundrum. He hadn’t seen his family in many years, and once he returned to them, would have to watch them die. This he could not have. He got his hands on something called a homestone, which delivers its user directly to when and where they first were when they first started traveling through time. He went back to his family, and his life. Then he frequently ushered everyone he cared about through his compass portals, and along the route towards the immortality waters. His whole family, sooner or later, became just like him. Now the only question that remained was, where in the world could they possibly live?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Microstory 1173: Isabeau Tribaldos

As the mid-21st century approached, the world began to truly wake up. While the majority of Earthans recognized both that climate breakdown was real, and that humans were the cause of it, politics prevented the fight against it from starting. The people did not hold the power to elect their representatives. Instead, the few wealthiest individuals and companies were the only ones whose voices mattered, because they were the ones donating the most money to their selected campaigns. A few things fixed this problem, in no particular order. First, those wealthy people just straight up died. Second, their children tended to be more liberal. Third, legislation started passing that limited donor power. Fourth, politicians stopped being as concerned with pleasing their donors, and more concerned with supporting the electorate—and non-electorate, for that matter. Any major donors that had a problem with this were free to choose a different candidate, but would be faced with the fifth reason, which was that democracy was prevailing anyway, and their backwards ideals were no longer welcome by anyone. Now, politicians were free to express their concerns over the environment, and a plethora of other social issues; some related, others not as much. All of this combined to form a whole, and a whole new world. Materialism gave way to efficiency and technological progress. It’s stupid to own a giant house when you can jack into a virtual world of limitless scope. Your living unit really only needs to be big enough to fit your bed, your clothes, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Entire cities were totally demolished, and replaced by plantlife. Trillions of trees were planted, and the world turned green again. People started living vertically, hundreds of meters up in the air, ultimately taking up a fraction of a fraction of an unfathomably small fraction of the land originally used by civilization. The climate was slowly starting to recover. Everything became more compact in these arcologies, and humans were never happier. Politics changed more, to accommodate the new way people were living in these megastructures. A lot of problems that would arise yesterday were completely irrelevant now, so the government was able to streamline its bureaucracy. A representative will be responsible for a single floor in one of the towers, while a senator represents the whole tower. A group of thirty-six towers in one city will be led by a governor, and if there aren’t enough towers to reach that minimum, the senators fill this role in a council. A commissioner will be in charge of six of these arcities, while the Moderator, Facilitator, Mediator, and Assistant Mediator govern the world as a whole. Of course, this jurisdictional structure is modified when taking into account other ways of living, such as seasteads and primitivist communities, but everyone is still represented. Isabeau Tribaldos was elected the Governor-Councilor for the Panama Arcstate. The population of Panama was high enough to justify two separate arcities, but not large enough to justify a full county, and a leading commissioner. So she was in charge of an entire city of towers, and was ultimately responsible for over three million people. She was a great leader, and Panama was a prosperous region.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Microstory 1172: Annora Ubiña

When she was a little girl, Annora Ubiña discovered that she could create a very small pocket dimension. Her father called himself a traditionalist, which was really just a fancy way of saying he was abusive. He never physically hit her, but he did a lot of lunging, and towering over her with his huge body. He was loud, and demanded too much of her. He liked to intimidate people; not just women, but he held a high office in the Republic, so no one could do anything about it. She realized right away that she could not let her father, or anyone else, know what she could do, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t use it for protection. Whenever he was in the mood to literally throw his weight around, she would sneak away, and hide in her pocket. At first, there was nothing in there. It was really just a closet-sized space of listless energy. She could carry things with her, however, and leave them there, where they would remain. She became a little thief to furnish her hideout. Anyone who had the inkling that she was the culprit would have no evidence against her...until they did. Over the years, she was able to increase the size of the pocket; not indefinitely, but a little more every year. Unfortunately, this had a side effect of alerting others to its existence. She would later figure out how to shield the pocket’s energy from detection, but not before the authorities found her, and locked her away for her crimes. There was an engineering error in the design of the prison. The architect calculated how many cells he would need, and multiplied that by the width of each to see how wide the building would need to be. He failed to account for the width of the walls between each cell, and instead of correcting this, the construction workers just built fewer cells. This was still not perfect, however, and the last cell in each block ended up being only about twenty inches wide. Until this point, it had only ever been used for storage, but the warden decided it would be a fitting torture of Annora, since it was ironic that now her movements were limited to the extreme. The cell walls were lined with power dampening paint, so there was no escape.

She spent eleven years there before the phallocracy fell, and the Provisional Government took power. Many people, particularly women, had been treated unfairly since the fall of the Mage Protectorate, but their crimes against Annora were of the highest order. In an attempt at reparations, Annora was provided with a settlement that suddenly turned her into one of the wealthiest people on the planet. She lived comfortably for the next decade, not pursuing any further legal action, and just trying to put the whole thing behind her. After all, they had at least gotten her away from her father, and he managed to die of a heart attack before she was released, so she never had to see him again. When the crew of an interstellar ship arrived on a mission to rescue two inhabitants, they found others who wanted to go to Earth as well. Their ship, however, was not anywhere near large enough to fit even a few more of them, so they asked her if she was willing to come as well, and use her now considerably stronger powers to create some extra space. Annora was perfectly happy living on Durus. In fact, she would have quite liked to stay. Things were getting better by the year, and she wanted to be a part of that. But the people on The Elizabeth Warren needed her more, so she agreed to leave. This would turn out to be a fatal mistake, for when she discovered a stowaway on board, his cousin, Jarrett felt it was too risky to let her keep living.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Microstory 1171: Sabra

While Étude Einarsson was the last Savior of Earth, Sabra was the very first. In more recent years, there has only been one Savior at a time. It is their job to teleport all over the globe, saving people’s lives. They have no control over this, and failure to comply has disastrous consequences. Saviors are chosen from conception, and it is impossible for them to maintain their old lives after they’ve been activated. They are, therefore, almost all missing persons. Before only one was needed at any one time, multiple Saviors would operate simultaneously. This was necessary, because of how dangerous the world was. The powers that be conscript as many people for the position as they think they need, and this pattern has pretty decently followed the bell curve model. Near the beginning of civilization, like was more dangerous than ever. War, disease, and freak accidents were extremely prevalent at the time, but the population of the world was also fairly low, so the highest number of concurrent Saviors didn’t come about until much later. Sabra was born in Memphis, Egypt in what is now considered to be the 31st century BCE. She was picked as the test case for what was then the new Savior Program, and was ultimately responsible for helping understand how it should all work. She was granted immortality, and kept her job for the next hundred years or so before the powers figured they had worked out all the kinks. One thing they decided was to not make the rest of the saviors immortal. They would live thirteen years of their life, be activated for the role, then either retire at an old age, or die young. They did not remove Sabra’s immortality, however. She instead became a guide and trainer for all new Saviors. For the most part, they work alone, but in order for them to know what it is they are, and what they need to do to be successful, someone always needs to have at least one direct conversation with them. Since the powers that be do not speak to salmon themselves, and The Emissary is always busy with other matters, Sabra was the obvious choice. She ended up being responsible for the training of every single Savior beyond her—from the second to the last—across more than 5,000 years.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 7, 2245

Mateo and the rest of the crew were having their regularly scheduled breakfast bonding experience—which Weaver instituted to maintain morale—when Thor held up an envelope. “Guys? What the hell is this?”
Cassidy held her own envelope up. “I have one too. It just appeared on top of my food.”
“As do I,” Weaver confirmed. “It looks to be a wedding invitation.” She looked at Mateo. “Yours.”
Mateo peeked over at Goswin’s envelope, which he was already opening up. “Oh, would you look at that? It’s kind of hard to fathom. I mean, I knew I was sending these invitations across time and space, but I still can’t help but think in linear time. I suppose you four are getting yours now because we are new friends.”
“You sent them personally, but you don’t remember sending one to me?”
Mateo laughed. “I sent forty-eight thousand, three hundred and ninety-two invitations. So no. I don’t remember you specifically.”
“There are gonna be that many people?” Thor exclaimed. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
“That’s what I said,” Mateo revealed.
Thor opened his invitation, and read it, like the others already were. “Do I have to accept?”
Mateo frowned. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these be received. Arcadia never said anything about acceptance rate, and whether that impacted my success at the wedding expiation. If you don’t wanna go, you don’t have to. I can’t imagine one decline is going to make much difference.”
“But we are all going to attend,” Weaver demanded. “We wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she said to Mateo.
“I was just asking,” Thor promised, which may have been the truth.
“Do you all have a meal preference section at the bottom?” Mateo asked.
They all affirmed.
“Then you’re part of the elite three-thousand.”
“They’re just blank lines,” Cassidy noted. “Are we meant to ask for whatever we want?”
“Anything,” Mateo confirmed. “I saw one table with their own lobster tank, and another with a shark on a spit.”
“Well, if we’re all gone, who will maintain the ship?” Thor asked. “Mateo’s not smart enough to do it on his own.”
“Read the fine print on the back,” Goswin pointed out. “We’ll be returned to our place in reality less than a second after we left. Apparently, a veiled human could turn away from us in the middle of a conversation, and not realize we were gone.”
“Should we dress up?” Cassidy asked. She seemed excited to go to a party, even though it wasn’t extremely safe for her.
“Yes,” Weaver decided. “We will break power consumption protocol, and splurge on some new outfits using the industrial synthesizer in engineering. Everyone also gets an extra misty shower.”
The other three sat there for a moment before racing to the ladder, hoping to get into the shower first.
“I’m glad you stayed a moment,” Mateo said to Weaver. “I wanted to ask your opinion on something.”
She nodded. “We can try. If you hold on tightly, both to Cassidy, and the letter, you may be transported with her. Going back to witness your own wedding would be quite the interesting experience.”
“Is it allowed?”
She took a sip of her tea. “We’ll see.”
“Why do I have to try to hitch a ride with Cassidy?”
“You already share a temporal link with her. She’s your best bet.”

After the showers and clothing synthesis, the four invitees, and one stowaway, stood around the central table. The instructions said to place both index fingers on the RSVP box for yes, and holding for six seconds. They all, including Mateo, suddenly found themselves in the Colosseum replica on Tribulation Island, Dardius. It worked. Even better than that, Leona seemed to have had the same idea. She was standing right next to them, with a woman he didn’t recognize. They were in a huge crowd of people, gathering for the oncoming ceremony.
“Oh my God,” Mateo said, tearing up. “I was hoping to see a past version of you, but I never thought we would be able to talk. What day is it for you?”
“November 7, 2245,” Leona answered with a joyful smile.
“Same,” Mateo said with a nod. “This is a new friend?”
“The telepath, who connected us when you were on Dardius,” Leona explained. “Sanaa Karimi.”
“It’s nice to meet you in person,” Mateo said as he shook Sanaa’s hand. “This is Goswin Montagne, Cassidy Long, Thor Thompson, and of course, Holly Blue. We call her Weaver, though.”
“Thor Thompson?” Leona asked. “Serkan’s Frenzy runner friend?”
“You knew Serkan?” Mateo asked Thor.
Thor shrugged. “Whatever. When do we eat?”
“Ignore him,” Mateo warned, shaking his head disapprovingly.
“Where are you?” Leona asked.
“The AOC. Apparently, we’re on our way to...”
Weaver was about to say it for him.
Mateo stopped her, “no I have it down now. Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida.”
Leona nodded understandingly. “You’re not in control of it? Just like when I was on my way to Varkas Reflex?”
“Correct, but we know who’s doing it. Leona, it’s Mirage; from the other timeline. She survived, and became, like a technology god, or something.”
“She’s the new leader of Bungula, but as far as I know, she wasn’t a god. I just figured they gave a different AI the same name. You know, we met a completely unconnected android who only shared his name with our Harrison because Ulinthra made it so. But I guess it makes sense. The powers that be can move people across time and space, but they can’t control technology. It would certainly explain a lot.”
“I can’t control where I’m going,” Mateo said, “but can you? Would you be able to make it to Bida?”
Leona and Sanaa exchanged a look. Hokusai still didn’t have the reframe engine figured out, but most of the research was done, and she projected two more days in Leona’s time. “Yes. We could probably beat you there. If you were going the speed of light, it would still take you fifteen years total.”
Weaver looked confused. “Wolf 359 is even farther from Tau Ceti.”
“We can explain,” Leona said.
And so they proceeded to catch up with each other. Mateo talked about Cassidy, and how she was now on their salmon pattern, to protect her from some mysterious force. Leona talked about leaving Bungula for Varkas Reflex, and of Hokusai’s new FTL engine. They were able to speed through most of it before the wedding ceremony began. It was surreal seeing it from this angle, even though it wasn’t the first time they had gone back in time and watched past versions of themselves in secret. Both Mateo and Leona had the good sense to cover themselves with hoods, though a few people did manage to spot them. One of them winked at Leona, like he knew she was going to be there. She took a mental picture of him, while Mateo took a real picture to put in his notes. He would probably turn up again later. The other one to notice them looked more surprised, but quickly suppressed her astonishment, and adhered to the rules of time travel by not telling anyone else about it. Actually, both Hokusai and Loa were nearby as well. Leona had been friends with them for longer, so their invitations came long before they stepped foot on Varkas Reflex. They wouldn’t say precisely when in their personal timelines this was for them, though, and Leona knew better than to ask about it now.
After all this time, Mateo and Leona finally felt comfortable revealing to each other that they were always disappointed in their own vows, and expressed interest in basically having a short renewal ceremony, where they were able to do better. This could not happen now, though. They would have to wait until they were safely and permanently reunited. Neither of them was capable of going back with the other. If Mirage wanted Mateo on that ship, there was definitely a reason, and he probably shouldn’t disregard that. Leona strongly believed the two of them would require the reframe engine in the future, so she needed to wait for that to be finished. According to Weaver’s calculations, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was destined to arrive on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in almost exactly ten years. Leona was determined to be waiting for them, and after that, they promised each other never to separate again. The reframe engine would only help with that, but the AOC would have to be retrofitted, so there would be enough room for everyone.
After the ceremony was over, people started to disappear. Only a few thousand people were to remain for the reception on the grounds, which would make it easier for someone to spot the wedding crashers. They couldn’t hang around for the festivities, but they couldn’t return until Cassidy and Sanaa were ready, even if they wanted to. Mateo and Leona decided to take a walk down to their old beach, just the two of them, so they could talk. Mateo wanted to have a discussion about the awkward Cassidy situation, but he also didn’t want to talk about it at all. If the only reason he mentioned it was to get ahead of the story, then didn’t that just make him even more worse of a person than he already was for having done it? Then again, trying to hide the truth about the lapdance certainly wasn’t putting his name in the running for sainthood. He kept trying to bring it up, but chickening out, and saying something else. He wasn’t sure whether Leona was picking up on it. She was.
Their conversation was interrupted when a small building appeared out of nowhere. It was The Prototype, which Leona had used to find all the tools she would need to bring Mateo back from nothingness. Arcadia pushes the door open from the inside, and walked towards them briskly.
Ecrin Cabral stepped out behind her. “Miss Preston, I am ordering you to stand down! You cannot interfere!”
“Court martial me!” Arcadia yelled back, but kept facing forward.
Mateo got into a defensive position.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” Arcadia said. “I’m only here to help. Please understand that I am a future version of the Arcadia you know. I have gone through quite a bit since then.”
“Is this possible?” Leona asked.
“I don’t know, because I thought...”
Arcadia dismissed the notion. “Lincoln didn’t tear me out of reality with the Superintendent’s unmagical pen.”
“Stop talking, Arcadia,” Ecrin ordered.
Arcadia went on, “it’s unclear whether his actions had anything to do with it, but Lieutenant Bulgari is the one who made me disappear in front of your eyes the last time you saw me. I’ve been traveling the bulkverse ever since.”
“So, you’ve been redeemed, like Horace Reaver?” Mateo asked.
“I would never try to compare myself to that man, but yes.”
Leona was less inviting. “What are you doing back here?”
“I came to give you this.” She removed something from her pocket, and showed it to them. It looked like a bullet to him.
Ecrin remained at Arcadia’s flank. “Arcadia, do not do this.”
Arcadia ignored her.
“It looks like a jet injector cartridge,” Leona noted.
“Sort of. You’ll have to synthesize an actual injector if you want to use it,” Arcadia said. She handed her a slip of paper. “Here are the specifications. The cartridge is filled with my sister’s sweat.”
“That’s gross,” Mateo said. “Am I meant to inject myself with this, and then I have Nerakali’s brain blending power temporarily?”
“Not yourself,” Arcadia replied. “Me.” She pointed in the general direction of the Colosseum. “I have just watched two unauthorized versions of the people I’ve been torturing walk away from their own past wedding, totally carefree. I was not pleased with seeing this, so I made a plan to punish you for it.”
“I remember,” Leona said. “You missed your mark by a couple years; showed up too early. I didn’t know what you were talking about yet.”
Arcadia nodded. “I did not make the same mistake with Mateo, and it had terrible consequences.” She forced the cartridge into Mateo’s hand. “Jam this into my neck, and you will alter reality for me, and me alone. I will move on with my life, believing that I punished you. Meanwhile, you will have escaped my wrath. It is possible that the memory I have of tomorrow never actually happened, because this new plan I’m giving you ends up working, and the memories I have of that day are false.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Can you do this? Can you pretend to have suffered long enough for Past!Me to jump back to the 22nd century, believing you were sufficiently punished? More importantly, can you trust the version of me standing before you now when I tell you that I really have changed, and I want to help.”
Leona took the cartridge from Mateo’s palm, and held it up to the light. “Captain Cabral. Assessment.”
Ecrin sort of frowned. “She violated a direct order when she coerced my navigator, Relehir into bringing us here. I do not know what it is in that vial, but she has proven herself to us many times. I do not believe she is deceiving you.”
Leona handed the cartridge back to Mateo. “Talk to Weaver. She’ll know how to make this work. Wait until you’re back on the ship, of course. Speaking of which, we better get back before we miss our rides.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Gatewood: Project Ethics Debate (Part I)

The year is 2238. Kestral McBride and Ishida Caldwell have just watched their friends ship out to find one of the crew members, Mateo Matic’s wife on a planet called Varkas Reflex. They stand here with a man named Saxon Parker, who has arrived to aid them in their endeavor to map the whole galaxy. The Milky Way is one of the largest galaxies in the observable universe. It spans over a hundred fifty thousand light years across, and contains anywhere between two hundred and four hundred billion stars. Those wildly inaccurate numbers are why the three of them are here. Situated nearly six light years from Earth, Barnard’s Star is the perfect location to build unfathomably large hyperstructures. Kestral and Ishida were first dispatched here to restart the construction of centrifugal cylinders. The initial intention was to allow colonists from Sol to cross the void, and settle around a new star, but these plans were abandoned in favor of diverting resources to other stellar neighbors. It came to serve a new function, as a refuge for the billions of people fleeing an oncoming war with an alien species in another universe.
Team Keshida, as they were sometimes called, built the cylinders in preparation for them, but they did not know this at the time. They were receiving instructions through their dreams, by a then unknown entity, who they later learned to be an artificial intelligence from another reality named Mirage. This being exists in a dimension that observes time as a spatial dimension, and can therefore see how the future turns out, simply by looking further down the timeline. Now that the cylinders are complete, and the refugees have begun to stabilize a new body of government, Team Keshida has other responsibilities to handle. Three interconnected projects, and one semi-unrelated project, are on the schedule right now. First, gigantic telescopes must be sent out to the void between galaxies, to gather a better picture of what the Milky Way is composed of. As this is happening, even larger ships will depart to systematically reach every single star system. The journey will take many tens of thousands of years, while traveling at nearly—but still not quite—the speed of light.
All three members of the team, original and newly conscripted, are aware that temporal manipulation is possible. With enough innovation, and access to the right time travelers, every star in the galaxy could probably be reached within a century, or maybe even faster. As of yet, though, the vonearthans are not aware of such possibilities, and they are the ones for which the team is working. The ignorant are expecting the project to last for two hekamyres—which means two hundred thousand years—so that’s how long they’ve designed it to last. Of course, the entire project remains a secret for now, because ethical questions regarding outward expansion were never fully resolved. Certain members of Earthan leadership have given the go-ahead for Project Stargate, and all that goes with it, but not everyone would be happy to find out it had been approved. They would be especially upset if they learned about its side project, Operation Starseed.
There are plenty of ethical concerns when it comes to Project Stargate. The idea is to send billions of modules through interstellar space. At first, these are held together within two gargantuan quad carriers, but they continually break apart, and fan out in different directions, until reaching the smallest independent unit; the seed plate. Each plate contains historical data, sensors, nanites, and other instruments. Once it arrives in a star system, it will start gathering details about it, and in order to do that, it must start building new machines, using the resources orbiting the star, or stars. The Earthan government, and civilian researchers never really figured out whether it was okay to do that; to interrupt the natural development of the system, in even the smallest of ways. Theoretically, the tools on the seed plate could build quantum messengers, and consciousness focal tethers, which would allow an individual to cast their mind light years away, almost instantaneously, and operate a surrogate body while there. This might be immoral on its own. Operation Starseed takes this further, and not even all of the people involved with Stargate are aware of it. Instead of allowing people to travel to new worlds using the quantum network, people would be grown on the new worlds. The exact nature of their lives is up to any number of variables, which would probably have to be calculated by an artificial hyperintelligence, but they would be created using genetic samples from people back home, who have not been told that their samples are being used in this way. Saxon Parker arrived on Gatewood with these samples, and Team Keshida still hasn’t decided whether or not they’re going to use them.
“All right,” Kestral says to Ishida. “You played a good devil’s advocate when it came to terraformation ethics. I suppose it’s my turn to play D.A. for this dilemma.”
“When do I get to play devil’s advocate?” Saxon asks.
“You’re just the actual devil,” Ishida says to him. “Your position on Starseed is quite clear. The purpose of this exercise is to consider all perspectives, by forcing one’s self to take an opposition position.”
“You’re saying you don’t agree that we should move forward with it?” Saxon asks. “Or, sorry, you, rather.”
“You’re part of the team now,” Kestral assures him. “Your opinion matters just as much. You’re just not part of the argument right now. I’m completely convinced that we should do this, which is why I’ll be fiercely arguing against it.”
“Okay,” Saxon says. “I’ll go back to the audience.” There is no audience but him, since the three people here right now are the only ones in the solar system who can be trusted with this information.
Ishida takes a deep breath. “Wait, which one am I again?” She likes to play dumb. She and Kestral get along so well because they’re both modest, and never want to be the smartest one in the room. The only time either of them is not the smartest one in the room, however, is when they’re both in the same room.
“You believe in Starseed,” Kestral reminds her. “Now. Try to get me on board too.”
“Okay.” Ishida takes another deep breath. “Egg Basket Theory,” she says simply.
“Go on,” Kestral encourages.
“Egg Basket Theory states that, if you rely too heavily on a single source of assets, when that source fails, all operations tied to it fail. Diversity is key.”
“You said, when it fails,” Kestral echoes. “Is that inevitable?”
“In all cases?”
Ishida thinks about her response. “Plus Murphy’s Law.”
“Nothing lasts forever. Failure is indeed inevitable. Nothing is indefinitely sustainable. We know the ultimate fate of our home star, which is why scientists are already discussing Project Tipping Point.”
Kestral waves her hand dismissively. “I don’t wanna talk about Tipping Point. Life on Earth is doomed regardless. An argument for the preservation of life does not explain how that helps the life that does not survive.”
“Explain,” Ishida prompts.
“Operation Starseed functions on the idea that human life is unconditionally valuable, in any form it takes. The continuance of the species is considered to be good on its own. It doesn’t matter where the species lives, or what happened to its predecessors. Life simply must go on, even if individual specimens don’t survive long.”
“Well, should it not survive?”
“I’m not saying that. I’m questioning whether we should be focusing resources on creating life that has almost absolutely nothing to do with us, when we could be devoting those resources towards protecting the natural progression of life. Starseed basically grows genetically recombined clones of a handful of what are essentially randomly selected sample donors. But who cares? The life we seed on other planets are not our children, or our legacies. Right now, they’re just hypothetical, and there’s no logical reason we should manifest them. Egg Basket Theory is a good argument for why we should colonize our stellar neighbors, which is why we’re in the middle of doing that. Most of the civilizations we seed will never know where they’re from, or how they got there, if they even last long enough to form a civilization. We will never interact with them, and if all life in the galaxy dies in a blink except one given world, that one world doesn’t matter to us. Earth is where life began, but this survivor world has no connection to Earth, so why are we meant to care about that?”
“You don’t care about them because you’ll never meet them?”
“You’re twisting my words.”
“I’m practically repeating them.”
Kestral tries to figure out a different approach. “Let’s say Saxon and I have a child.”
“Does that child have value?”
“Of course it does.”
“Let me rephrase. Does that child have value...” She emphasizes the punchline by pointing twice to the floor, “...right now?”
“I don’t understand.”
“The child does not exist. He and I have never had sex. I don’t even think I’ve physically touched him before. Maybe I shook his hand once. The child doesn’t have any value; it isn’t real. If it were to become real, sure. But we would have to complete that task first. We would have to, at the very least, initiate the creation of this life. We can’t, as rational people, assign value to it until we do.”
Ishida opens her mouth to speak, but is cut off.
“And if we were to do that, we would decide together, and we would raise that child in whatever way we see fit. Starseed, on the other hand, is asking us to shoot our gametes into space with nothing more than a smile and a salute. It’s one thing to become pregnant, and not be able to raise the child yourself. It’s a whole different thing to create life with the intention of not being around for it. Is that not unethical?”
“Ah, but we will be around. Not us personally, but the seed plates will hold the knowledge required to nurture that life. You’re only talking about the first generation. A hundred and forty-seven people. The second generation will have parents.”
“A hundred and forty-seven people per world,” Kestral corrects. “Upwards of billions total. That’s a lot of orphans.”
“Again, they’ll still have parents, per se. They’ll be robots, but...they won’t be alone. That’s more than evolved life on Earth can say. When you think about it, what we’re trying to do is more ethical than what God did.”
“Okay, now you’re bringing in religion, which is not what we’re doing here.”
“Kestral, you’re doing a really good job of sounding like you don’t think we should do this. We decided it was ethical to terraform certain worlds, as long as exhaustive life-potential surveys are conducted first. Would you have us scrap Starseed entirely?”
“I’m not going to break character until we understand this issue completely. I will, however, submit to a break.” She looks over to the audience of one. “I believe Saxon needs some time to process the hypothetical scenario where we parent a child together.”
“I’m fine,” Saxon promises. “This impressive as it was intense.”
“We’re not done yet,” Kestral says. “I need to check for imperfections in the Project Topdown telescope lenses again, though, so we’ll sleep on it. Come ready for round two tomorrow.”
“Yes, captain.”