Saturday, June 22, 2019

Proxima Doma: Easement (Part XIV)

Étude and Vitalie were sitting in two indigo chairs, in a darkly lit room, politely waiting for a response. The former was now fully committed to going out in search of her daughter, and Vitalie was willing to help. They would not be able to do it alone, though. Neither of them had access to an interstellar ship, so they were trying to get help from the Domanian government. Colony ships were still transporting people from Earth to its nearest stellar neighbors, but at present, no vessels were designated to travel between any of these neighbors. No one was going from Proxima Doma to Gatewood, and since these trips were planned months—if not years—in advance, this was going to take a lot of convincing. There was simply no time to waste.
“Well...?” Étude asked when the Transportation Administrator returned.
“You spoke with Foreign Policy about this already?”
“Yes,” Étude confirmed. “She was unsuccessful.”
“Unsuccessful how?” it asked. The Transportation Admin, Xaovi Rue rejected the concept of gender, and preferred the pronoun it.
“She said she was able to make contact with Gatewood, but they said they wouldn’t be able to help us find my daughter.”
“Well, there’s your answer,” Xaovi decided. “Why would I let you go there when there’s nothing to find anyway?”
“No, you didn’t hear her voice.”
“Whose voice? The Foreign Policy Admin, or the contact at Gatewood?”
“Gatewood,” Vitalie said. “They sounded shady.”
It seemed confused by this. “I was to understand Administrator Fillipa used the quantum messenger in private, without you being present. How could you know what the Gatewood contact sounded like?”
Étude and Vitalie looked at each other. Vitalie cleared her throat, but didn’t say anything.
Xaovi nodded continuously. “I’m not going to help you if you’re not honest with me. You might be surprised by this, but we’re pretty smart on this planet. We may have started out sort of rustic, but our technology is on par with Earthan standards now. We have ways of monitoring public occurrences, and artificial intelligence that is capable of recognizing patterns. The fact is there are things that happened that can’t be explained using current models of human social behavior. A religious individual might call these such events miracles.”
“We’re not sure what you’re—”
It shook its head. “Save the rationalization. We know a...superhero once protected this world. We even know that people like this once did something similar on Earth. Don’t worry, it’s all a tight circle. Any AI with this information either erased their knowledge of it, or retains orders to keep their speakers still about it.” As an idiom, still speakers was the inorganic equivalent to keeping one’s mouth shut. Speakers emit sounds through vibrations.
“They were called Saviors,” Vitalie relented.
“My predecessors, who inspired me,” she clarified. “I was The Caretaker here, until I felt like you no longer needed me.” She chose to leave Étude’s name out of it in this regard, because that was a conversational path that would do no one any good to walk.
“So, you can be in two places at once?”
“Let’s just say that I move fast.”
It nodded again. “Quite. I don’t suppose you move fast enough to get to Gatewood on your own.”
“No,” Étude answered.
Xaovi sighed. “I don’t know if I can authorize the easement of an entire interstellar ship for two people who don’t even know if they’ll find what they’re looking for when they get there. What if it turns out your daughter is somewhere else. Do you keep the ship?”
“We would borrow Gatewood property if we need to go somewhere else in addition,” Étude promised. “And you don’t have to give it to just us. Announce a new program; the first ever state-sponsored interstellar trip between two exoplanets. I’m sure plenty adventurous people would sign up. Some people born on Doma are even old enough now to make that decision themselves.”
“You think a hundred and forty-five people will sign up for that?”
“Is that what you require?” Vitalie asked it.
It thought it over for a moment. “That’s standard capacity, and there’s even room for more. I don’t think requiring a full complement is asking too much. This is going to take resources, and it has to be worth it.”
“One-twenty,” Vitalie said.
It chuckled once. “This isn’t a negotiation.”
“Fine. You wanna play it that way? I say a hundred forty-seven total; you say a hundred and twenty-one. So I’ll counter with...a hundred and forty-seven.”
Étude placed her hand on Vitalie’s thigh, which would have been perfectly normal just days ago, but since fifty-six years had gone by for Vitalie, and they were no longer true friends, it wasn’t received extremely well. “Vita, stop.”
“Look,” Xaovi began, “I’m not asking you to run out and grab signatures. My team and I will coordinate surveys and signups, using standard operating procedure guidelines. We’ll even fasttrack the process, but I need to know you’re not going to do anything stupid if it turns out there’s less interest than you hoped.”
“What kind of stupid thing would we do?” Vitalie questioned.
“If you’re as fast as it sounds like you are, you could steal a ship.”
“That’s a good idea,” she quipped. “Thanks for giving it to me.”
“Vitalie, please.” She got this close to placing her hand on Vitalie’s thigh again. It just seemed so normal.
“A hundred and forty-five,” Xaovi repeated, more seriously. “A hundred and forty-five people who are one hundred percent committed to trying out a new colony, and I will authorize departure. But keep in mind, Gatewood has to accept you. I’m not sending you off without their permission; that would be absurd. It sounds like they’re not to keen on visitors, so you should be prepared to be turned down by them. That’s entirely beyond my scope of influence, so you can’t blame me if it happens. I can try to find you the passengers.”
“Yeah, I bet you will.” Vitalie scoffed.
“Make no mistake,” Xaovi went on, still serious. “I am not working against you. I feel no personal connection to the ships presently in our orbit, or on our docks. I am perfectly happy to let one go, but only if that’s what the people want. Resources for a hundred and forty-seven people should be allocated for a hundred and forty-seven people.”
God, they were getting tired of hearing that number.
“I don’t care where those people are, as long as those resources aren’t being wasted. I will do everything in my power to get you signatures, and if we still used money, you could put it on that promise.” It shifted in its seat, and leaned forward. “But if you get a hundred and forty-four potentials, the deal’s off. All the way, or nothing at all. We can revisit the idea a year from now, and the year after that, until we find enough, but I require no less than enough to fill those pods.”
That wasn’t a terribly unreasonable deal. She needed to find her daughter, but the evidence she was in Gatewood was thin anyway. The person who answered the call sounded like she was lying. Why didn’t she just say outright she had never heard of Cassidy?
“How about—?” Vitalie began to ask.
“That’s fair,” Étude admitted. “We will accept whatever the outcome may be. One full migrant ship, or nothing.”
To their surprise, there was enough to interest in emigration to fill two ships over standard capacity. Convincing Gatewood to accept them took a little more doing, though. Apparently, it was being used exclusively for pretty secretive scientific experimentation, and also for military purposes. No civilians lived there at the moment. In the end, they agreed, but the former Proxima Domanians would be limited to their own centrifugal cylinder. Evidently, there was no planet around the star, so these giant man-made structures were the only places people could survive. They probably could have garnered enough interest from the Domanians for three ships if not for the fact that there was no planet.
Étude and Vitalie wondered what was going on. Was there some alien threat that the greater vonearthan population was not aware of, and Gatewood was being used to prepare for an interstellar war? Or had the Gatewooders discovered time travel, and were protecting it from everyone else, just like they were meant to. It would explain their unsettling reaction to hearing Cassidy’s name. Exactly how many people were living there, and would there be any way of finding Étude’s daughter? These were questions that would not be answered for years to come. The ships they were taking were only at the speed standards that they were when they first arrived. Some had, or were being, upgraded, while new ones were being built. As an unscheduled departure, however, the emigrants were only being given the outdated technology. Étude didn’t love that, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. As Barnard’s Star was about six and a half light years from Proxima Centauri, it would take them over ten years. For these people with their extended lifespans, that was no big deal. The two of them were immortal, so the only reason the duration was a problem was because Étude was anxious to finally meet her daughter. Again, though, this was about as good as it would get, so she took the win.
They said their goodbyes to Tertius, who was, of course, staying behind to protect the Oblivios. They were still living peacefully in their dome, completely, well...oblivious to everything that was happening in the real world. Étude and Vitalie boarded the ship with all the other passengers, and left Proxima Doma, probably for good.

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