Saturday, December 22, 2018

Brooke’s Battles: Begone (Part XII)

About 85,000 astronomical units from Earth, there lies a planetesimal with a diameter around 40 kilometers. While the majority of the solar system was conquered by the beginning of the 23rd century, much of the Oort cloud still remained uncharted. Dominated by relatively small celestial bodies, at unfathomable numbers, it just wasn’t priority for exploration, nor would it likely ever be. Though the era of darkburster technology was presumably over, that didn’t mean there weren’t ships that secretly escaped the clutches of the heliosphere long before. An estimated dozen or so significantly populated vessels probably managed to begin traveling interstellar space before detection technology designed to sense them was put in place. It would take them longer to get to any destination than a sanctioned mission leaving today, or years from now, when near lightspeed levels are reached, so it’s unclear what their goal is, but they are almost certainly out there, somewhere.
As the crew of The Sharice Davids learned, one such of these ships was manned by a small group of pioneer researchers. They didn’t leave to spite the rest of the solar system. They didn’t want to change humanity, or regress it, or destroy it. They didn’t even really want to isolate themselves. They left in order to study the long-term effects of extra-solar living. A primary drive of human beings, and many transhumanistic offshoots of humans, is to spread out. Hundreds of thousands of years from now, possibly every habitable planet in the galaxy will be inhabited, with potential plans to reach other galaxies. One thing every aspiration like this has is the assumption that each mission will head for a star system. Stars are life-giving entities. Even some crazy starfish alien capable of surviving in the vacuum of space would still likely be found near a star. So, these scientists questioned, what would it be like to live in the cold empty. They went out on their darkburster about two decades ago, and settled on the first orbital they could find outside of the heliosphere. They named it Vespiary.
“The Insulator was a lifesaver,” said the leader of Vespiary, Farhana Sultana. “We would all be dead without it.”
“Where did it come from?” Ecrin asked. She and Relehir were still on the ship, because evidently the machine they were planning to use to leave the universe would be arriving somewhere around here. It was a funny coincidence that had yet to come to fruition.
“A man appeared with it, literally out of nowhere,” Farhana explained. “Our habitat was undergoing a cataclysm. Half our people managed to escape to the ship—which would have done them little good, as we hadn’t installed a microponics lab, and don’t have enough fuel to reach civilization—but half were still stuck over here. When I say he appeared, I mean he wasn’t there, and a second later, he was. He left the same way, through no apparent means.”
“He gave you the insulator?” Brooke asked.
“He acted like it was his mission, called himself The Kingmaker, which is weird.”
Brooke and Ecrin gave each other a look. They knew exactly who he was. Mario Matic was a time traveling salmon, whose apparent job it was to protect socially vital individuals throughout time. It was surprising how many important people there were in history who unwittingly came this close to dying. The majority of them were saved by Mario. If he was sent all the way to Vespiary with a special temporal object capable of sustaining life, someone here was destined to do great things. That person could be Farhana, or it could be the janitor.
“How long have you been using it?” Goswin jumped in. He was there, because he appreciated a good adventure, didn’t have anything better to do, and was still in a relationship with Brooke.
“For three years,” Farhana answered. “How fortuitous you come today, for we have recently determined that we are finally capable of taking back control over life support. With these more robust redundancies, we should be able to do without the insulator.”
“We don’t want to take it from you if you think you’ll need it in the future,” Goswin said. He wasn’t technically authorized to make such a statement, but his sentiments matched with the senior crew, including The Weaver and Holly Blue, who were running final diagnostics on the FTL cylicone.
“Now hold on,” President Treacy stopped them. “If the Vespiary is willing to give it up, I’m sure we can negotiate a fair deal. They have it, we want it.” He was there, because they kind of had to let him be there. He represented the interests of the Freemarketeers, and like it or not, they were the Sharice’s passengers, and some of its crew.
“We all understand how capitalism works, jackass,” Ecrin said. The fact that the real crew had to put up with them didn’t mean they had to like it, or be nice.
“No need for payment,” Farhana assured them. “We only ask to borrow your communications array, to send a message to our Plutonian contact.”
“Is your communications system not working?”
“We do not have the resources to fix it,” Farhana said. “We’ve been radio silent since everything else broke.”
“You don’t need to borrow our array,” Ecrin said. “We’ll give you a quantum messenger that you can use any time. We’ll also refuel you, so you can return to civilization at your will.”
“Now hold on,” Treacy argued, “we need the fuel to get to Bugula, and  we need that quantum messenger to make deals with other systems.”
“Calm down,” Ecrin ordered. “We have two QMs, and oh yeah, a perpetual motion drive. We don’t need fuel.”
“How much for the perpetual engine?” Treacy posed.
“Shut up!” Ecrin, Brooke, and Goswin shouted in unison.
“We would be grateful for your aid in this matter,” Farhana moved on. “To be clear, though, this is not an exchange. We expect nothing. The Insulator is yours.”
“Understood,” Brooke replied.
“Do you also want the other thing?” Farhana asked.
“What other thing?”
“The sextant.”
Brooke put a puzzled look on her face. “We have far more sophisticated navigational tools. We’ve no need for a sextant.”
“I just thought it might be yours, since it showed up shortly after the Kingmaker departed,” Farhana said. She tapped her radio. “Weber, bring the sextant in here. No one on my team knows where it came from. One day, it was just sitting on top of the mass spectrometer, like someone had placed it there so they would have two free hands, then forgot about it.”
A moment later, one of Farhana’s people came in holding an honest-to-God sextant. Brooke analyzed it with her eyes, and could determine only that it was made out of gold. “Does it do something a normal sextant doesn’t?”
“We’re not sure.” She turned it over in her hands. “When we try to work it, we can feel a kind of pull towards the stars, but other than that...we just don’t know.”
Brooke was about to take the mysterious object, so Holly Blue or Weaver could study it, but a voice in her head told her not to. At first she thought it was just her intuition, but then she realized it was more substantial than that. When androids and transhumanistic upgrades were first being developed, there was an ethical concern about reprogramming. If humans were merged with technology, they could theoretically be hacked, and made to do things against their will. In order to preemptively combat this possibility, researchers came up with a way to map the unadulterated brain. A quantified neural baseline helped to recognize invading code; kind of like how a white blood cell can tell the difference between healthy bacteria, and a foreign pathogen. This thought of Brooke’s that she should leave the sextant be was not her own. Someone else had written the idea into her liveware, but who, and why? It could have happened at any time since Brooke first upgraded, and now. She may never know.
Brooke went back to their ship, and recruited Holly Blue to help connect with The Vosa, since Weaver could finish the finishing touches on the cylicone by herself. The head Freemarketeer engineer was still standing just outside the door, desperate to get but one glance at the technological marvel. He actually seemed like a pretty good guy, but he still couldn’t be trusted with this information. To get his mind off of it, Brooke asked for his assistance with the siphoning as well. They also decided to upgrade the Vosa’s main drives for present-day speed standards.
Along with the fuel, Brooke decided to provide Vespiary with some other resources; emergency food rations, medical supplies, a few replacement parts, and a chamber printer, which was so-called because it could print a three-dimensional structure the size of a small room. Treacy, and the rest of his cohorts continued to complain about all this charity, but there was nothing they could do about it. They didn’t see the irony either, instead believing their leaving the system was their payment for all the Sharice was giving them. If they were just better people, though, they wouldn’t need any of this.
They remained at Vespiary for one night, just so that Weaver was sure everything was ready to go. There was no real rush anyway. Come morning, Brooke woke up from hibernation mode, and asked Sharice where she was. Sharice was still wearing her android body, but maintained a constant link with the ship proper. Unlike on the old television series, Andromeda, which served as the inspiration for this dynamic, Sharice remained as a singular consciousness, capable of slipping back and forth between substrates, like neighboring rooms in a hallway. At the moment, she was apparently in the recreation room. When Brooke walked in, she found that the Maramon, Relehir was with her, as was Étude. The latter came on board after the last minute. The Sharice had already taken off from Luna Station when Étude teleported in. As per usual, she didn’t say a word, but Ecrin got the impression she was there upon the suggestion of someone who could see the future.
They were nearing the completion of their four-dimensional variant of three-player quantum Go. This version of the game takes into account, not only quantum entanglement, and the three spatial dimensions, but also a temporal dimension. Players are free to move their pieces forwards and backwards in time, according to a complex matrix of rules and logical algorithms that are practically impossible to predict. Players must agree upon a window of gameplay to prevent prehistorical hijacking, in this case, the three of them decided the game should last throughout the entire year it would take to get to Vespiary. As the most complicated game ever invented, it was first conceived by an unknown pair from a long-since collapsed alternate timeline, reportedly sometime in the 26th century. And so the truth comes out that Weaver only pretended to not be quite done with the cylicone, just to let these people finish their game. She had apparently grown fond of Étude, who would have lost if the game had ended early. Now, she was only one move away from winning, that was, unless Relehir pulled a miracle out of his ass.
“We’re about to leave,” Brooke said impatiently. “If you’re staying here, it’s time you get off the ship.”
“We’re almost done, mom,” Sharice said.
“No, it’s okay,” Relehir promised. “If I need to go, I will.”
“You can’t quit just because you’re in the winning position,” Sharice whined.
“Oh? I’m winning?” Relehir playacted. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Make your final move, then it’s my turn.”
Relehir had a smug look as he placed his last piece. “Yuomi hack. Boom, go!” He did pull out a miracle. No matter what Étude did, she wouldn’t be able to win. It would be over, except that it was Sharice with the secret weapon.”
“It’s time, mother,” Sharice petitioned her.
“Gladly,” Brooke said. “As long as it gets us off the ice.”
She stepped forward, and removed a game piece from her ear. Then she reached up to the top of the holographic board, and placed the extra piece in a particular spot. Half of Relehir’s pieces disappeared, along with several of Étude’s.
“Holy crap!” Relehir cried. He stopped and studied the board, which was wildly different than it was just seconds ago. “Ashisuto maneuver. But how did you—” he stopped to study more. “March twenty-one, you jumped forward a month, and came out lighter. I was wondering what you had done with the second piece that you left with.”
Étude signed the word for legal, in the form of a question.
“Yes, it was a legal move,” Relehir said, outstretching his hand to shake Brooke’s “And a brilliant one, at that. Congratulations, Sharice.” He looked over at the clock on the wall. “Just in time, my ride’s arrived.”
Hargesen to Captain Prieto,” the Freemarketeer cargomaster called on comms.
“Go ahead,” Sharice said into her comms.
You better come down here. A, uhh...ship, I guess, just appeared out of nowhere.  They say they’re looking for a tent, reportedly for sex.
“A sex tent? I’m on my way,” Sharice replied.

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