Saturday, June 29, 2019

Bungula: Building Society (Part I)

The year is 2226. Brooke and Sharice Prieto-Matic have just watched their friends ship out to catch up with other friends in another solar system; Gatewood. Brooke and Sharice had to stay behind on Bungula, because there wasn’t enough room on the vessel. Only Leona and her artificial intelligence companion were able to fit, and the latter only because she uploaded her consciousness into the ship’s internal systems. This was okay, though, because there wasn’t necessarily anything on Gatewood for them anyway. Brooke was born on a planet millions of light years from here, in an entirely separate galaxy. Leona was the one who took her to Earth, staying alive for the four thousand year journey with a special water called Youth, while Brooke remained in suspended animation. She was then raised on Earth, at first by Leona herself, then by a surprise cousin of Brooke’s named Mireille.
Brooke was born without the ability to experience nonlinear time. Most humans don’t have the power to travel through the timestream, though they can find someone with such power to ferry them. It will cause them great illness if they don’t take the necessary precautions, but it is still be possible. Brooke, on the other hand, is incapable of it. Basically, her power is that she has no power. A special necklace she wears containing her umbilical cord can subvert this rule, but it’s normally impossible. This had the effect of making her feel stuck between two worlds as she was growing up, like she was neither salmon or choosing one, nor human. She was also living so far from her family that the only hope she might have had to see them again was if she lived a very long life. Fortunately, she was living at the right time in history. She was young enough to undergo life extension treatments, and transhumanistic upgrades. Through technology, and human ingenuity, she became virtually immortal, though not without weaknesses. The ship she was taking to this star system experienced cataclysmic sabotage. In the midst of this, the saboteur murdered Brooke, and Sharice was forced to take drastic measures.
Brooke’s consciousness was uploaded to the ship, and later to a special temporal object called The Insulator of Life. She was later revived, and placed in an android body, which was how she finally ended up on Bungula. Her daughter underwent the same procedure, though it was nothing new for Sharice. At first, the Sharice Davids was like any other ship that was operated by an artificial intelligence. But something happened when Brooke interfaced with it, and this AI was able to become completely self-aware, and independent. Sharice is now her own person, who considers Brooke to be her mother. Brooke was hesitant at first, but ultimately took a liking to this new lifeform, and treats as a daughter. Now they’re on Bungula together. There is no way off, and they have no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. They have to find a way to contribute to this budding society, or risk alienating the colonists.
“Welp, there she goes,” Sharice notes, looking up at the sky.
“Yeah,” Brooke says in a southern farmer twang, nodding her head, looking as well. “Probably never see her again.”
“That’s not true, is it?”
“Eh, I dunno.”
Sharice pretended to breathe deeply, which is something she’s never needed to do. “Someone is approaching.”
“Yes, I sense him.”
“Should we meet him halfway?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
Sharice smirks and goes back to watching the sky. Even with their fancy telescopic eyes, Leona’s tiny ship is long beyond their maximum view range, so they are really just looking at the stars.
The man finally reaches them. “Mirage would like to see you.”
“Who?” Brooke asks.
“Mirage, this world’s new leader.”
“She’s an AI?” Brooke questions.
“We have always had an AI leader.”
“Yeah, but...”
“What is it, mother?” Sharice is confused why Brooke is confused.
“We’ll be right there, thank you,” she says to the man. “Thank you,” she repeats when he doesn’t leave.
“What’s going on?” Sharice questions when he finally goes.
“An identity crisis,” Brooke answers, still studying those distant worlds. “When someone goes back in time, they generate a new reality. The old one collapses, along with everyone who lived in it.”
“Right,” Sharice understood, “then different versions live on in the new timeline.”
Are they different versions?” Brooke poses. “Or are they different people? It’s very easy to tell when you meet an alternate version of someone you already know, but what does that mean for inorganics, like us? I mean, I look the same as I did before, but that’s just because Ramses didn’t know what other face to give me. He could have just as easily made me look like someone else entirely.”
“I’m not following.”
Brooke finally turns her chin down. “I’ve heard of someone named Mirage. She existed in another reality. Leona and her now-husband had a couple encounters with her. Then she was destroyed, and years later, Mateo went back in time, killed Hitler, and completely altered history.”
“So, this Mirage isn’t the same one as before?”
“Well, that’s the question. Mirage developed self-awareness and agency, just like you. But her coding was originally done by a person. If that programmer exists in this timeline, did they write the exact same code? If the code is different, is it different enough to so that the product isn’t really Mirage, but someone else who happens to have the same name? It’s bad enough when you discuss the identity of naturally conceived individuals. The fact that they look the same as their alternate reality counterpart is enough to justify treating them as the same person, but that approach doesn’t work with people like us.”
“Is this about us, or Mirage?”
“Bolth,” Brooke answers with a distinct l sound.
“You’re worried about being erased from time?”
“It’s not something I ever thought about until today, but hearing Mirage’s name; I guess it just triggered me.
“You can rest easy, mother,” Sharice said as she began to follow the man towards the administration building. “You’re only ever conscious of the reality you’re presently living in. You can’t be erased from time, because you’re always living in the last reality that will ever exist.”
“I’m more worried about you,” Brooke laments as she begins to follow as well. “I was born. I have a stronger chance of being born again. But you. A lot of things had to go right to make you.”
“Don’t be sure about that,” Sharice says. “All life is delicate. We can’t spend our time worrying about things that are out of our control. Whether we’re about to meet a version of Mirage that Leona knew, or the name is just a coincidence, doesn’t matter. Either way, this is the one with the power to execute a decision on what to do with us.”
“I am the very same Mirage,” the administrator says to them when they arrive. “Eight people hail from the other timeline. Mateo and Gilbert traveled to the past, and created the new reality. Saga and Vearden followed them through. The Cleanser had ways of protecting himself from these kinds of changes. Leona and Horace had their brains blended, so they would remember their past lives. And me? Well, I was taken out of the timestream itself, and became witness to all events in history; even the contradictory ones.”
“You what?” Brooke questions.
“Leona told you that I died trying to save her from a fall to Earth?”
“If you are telling the truth about who you are, then yes.”
Mirage smiles. “I shed my substrate, and fell into another dimension, where time is a spatial dimension. I only recently found a way to return to reality, as an avatar.”
“So you decided to come rule over a colony planet?” Sharice asks.
“I’m not a ruler,” Mirage argues. “I’m the administrator. I’m here to make sure everyone’s safe and happy. That’s why they call it civil service.”
“What’s your motive? You could have stayed there, and been as a god. Why sink yourself to our level?”
“I don’t see it that way,” Mirage explains. “I did everything I needed there, and besides, I’m still technically there, because time is a spatial dimension, remember? I’ve seen all the paintings.”
“Are you trying to tell me you were in The Gallery, where the Cleanser, and the rest of the Preston family lived?”
Mirage deliberately doesn’t respond to this. “Look, I could do some things while I was there, but I was powerless, for the most part. I came back, because I feel I can help. Way I understand it, you two need some direction.”
“How do we know we can trust you?” Brooke asks her.
Mirage was mildly surprised by this. “Well, what would you have done if I had been some random entity that you had never heard of before.”
“Well, you’re not, so... Didn’t you try to kill Mateo?”
“I was programmed to do that, and I transcended it.”
“What if you’re programmed to do something like that again?” Sharice thinks she has her there.
Brooke knows what Mirage is about to say.
“What if you’re programmed to do something like that? It’s 2226. Humans and robots alike can be manipulated and controlled. You can’t even trust yourselves, so why should you trust me? Because societies can’t grow if we don’t trust each other.”
“Is that what you’re doing here; building society?” Brooke presses.
“It’s been a settlement for ten years,” Mirage begins. “These people are basically on a camping trip far from home. Administrator Eight Point Seven kept everyone safe, but she kept it mostly an extension of Earth. I want to change that. I want Bungula to go down in history as a world known for innovation.”
“Are you getting at something in particular?” Sharice asks.
“We’re gonna terraform this rock. We’re gonna do it about three hundred and fifty years ahead of schedule. And you two are gonna help us with it. I want to be able to transplant a human here who was living on nineteenth century Earth, and make him think he just woke up in the woods.” After Brooke and Sharice don’t say anything, Mirage has to continue, “I don’t mean I’m actually going to do that. I realize we are capable of such a thing, but I’m just illustrating my goals here.”
“With all due respect, this is impossible.”
“Why?” Mirage asks. “We have a thin atmosphere, a weak magnetosphere, oceans, a hearty moon. A...crappy second moon we could use for dark materials. The sun has a good mass, the gas giants protect us from deadly impacts, and we’ve detected sulfur deposits six hundred kilometers from here. This can be done. Alpha Centauri Ab is the best candidate for terraforming we’ve encountered yet.”
“I’m in,” Sharice exclaims.
“Shari,” Brooke scolds vaguely.
“Wadya say, Brookey?” Mirage offers. “I’m in need of a good pilot.”
Brooke is still unconvinced. “Have you conducted studies? How will this affect the people living under the domes? Those sulfur deposits actually make me worry more, because what if there already is native life here, and we’ve endangered it just by colonizing in the first place?”
“Miss Matic...” Mirage tries to say.
“Prieto,” Brooke says. “I’ve always felt closer to my mother’s side of the family. My cousin raised me.”
“Miss Prieto,” Mirage amends, “I understand your concerns, and I’m not saying I want to send you up with giant mirrors tonight. We’ll do those studies, but we’ve already run preliminaries, and my scientists are confident that this is a feasible—and ethical—course of action.”
Brooke looks between the two of them. Mirage has said nothing to assuage her fears. “I agree to nothing now, but I won’t do anything to stop you here. If you need my very specific help with anything, I’ll consider it. But if we find life, or we find that the domes can’t stay as they are while we’re making this happen, then it’s over. I also reserve the right pull Sharice from the project at any time.”
“Very well,” Mirage says. “I agree to your terms.”

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