Saturday, July 6, 2019

Bungula: Black Stuff (Part II)

Mirage wanted to allocate a year to run a more detailed survey of Bungula, but Brooke wasn’t happy with these parameters. With that amount of time, even with three highly advanced artificial and upgraded intelligences, you can really only get an idea of what it’s like on the surface. Brooke needed to see below the surface, and deep in the world’s oceans. Life is tricky to find, and even harder to recognize. She demanded they spend no fewer than two years on the project before they started altering the planet’s dynamic conditions. They ended up spending three years on it, just to make sure. Fortunately, Mirage’s plans for terraforming were a lot more sophisticated than the humans would have been able to accomplish. This all had to be a pretty big secret, because if word ever got out that people were using temporal powers in full public view, they risked being sent to Beaver Haven Prison.
Mirage hinted that the way she wanted to terraform Bungula was less advanced than she probably could do it, but they wanted to remain somewhat plausible for this time period. They could theoretically teleport any nearby celestial objects they needed, but residents and scientists would wonder how they hell that got there so fast. There were already going to be enough questions about this process, so Mirage didn’t want to field even more. While teams were surveying the planet, others were constructing the machines and ships they would one day need to get started. At the moment, Mirage had some news for Brooke. Sharice was presently in the far reaches of the solar system, studying a field of icy planetesimals, like those found in Sol’s Oort cloud.
“First things first,” Mirage says. “It’s too cold here. I was thinking about using the second moon to paint the surface hyperblack, which would lower the albedo, but based on the survey you insisted we take, we’ve discovered that this would take far too long.”
“You’re welcome,” Brooke says.
“Yes, thank you. I freely admit this project needs you, which is why I asked you to be part of it in the first place.”
“Well, what else did you have in mind?” Brooke asks.
Mirage grinned. “Mavrophyllic algae.”
“What is that?” I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s a synthetic, algae-like organism created in a laboratory. Except it doesn’t use chlorophyll or photosynthesis to generate energy.”
That doesnt explain much. Go ahead and say it. I think I can guess from the morphology of the word, but I don’t want to assume.”
“The organisms feed off of dark matter.”
“And there it is,” Brooke says. “That’s insane.” It should be impossible.
“I assure you, it’s very real.”
“Why have we not heard of it?” Brooke questions.
“Well, technically it doesn’t exist yet, but we can invent it. It grows really fast, and can cover the entire surface in a matter of months. It can also be killed when it gets out of hand.”
“Mirage, if it’s invented in the future, we can’t invent it now. It’ll alter the future.”
“Oh, we’re altering the future all the time. This is a reasonable scientific development that’s going to shock people, but not expose time travelers. No one’s going to be like, we didn’t predict that happening until seven hundred years from now!
“You’re looking to do this seven hundred years early!” Brooke exclaims. “That’s way too far. No, I won’t allow it.”
“Too bad, it’s done.”
Brooke is offended. “Excuse me?”
“You have the ability to control your involvement in this project, and perhaps even Sharice’s, but I can do what I want. I’ve been assigned the administrator of this place, and I’m free to conduct whatever experiments I deem necessary. I’ve had a team working on this for months. I barely gave them a nudge. They figured most of it out on their own.”
“And you’ve already deployed this stuff?”
“No, it’s still just in the lab, but I can release it without your permission.”
“I can contact Beaver Haven about this. They may not be so happy with you suddenly sending us all to the thirtieth century.”
Mirage laughs. “I thought you might say that, which is why I’ve already spoken with The Warden. She assures me she don’t give a shit. She would have a problem if we were trying it in her time period, but it’s 2229. We both agree, the vonearthans aren’t going to freak out.”
“Can you even mass produce enough of this? I mean, you said it grows fast, but metabolism has its limits.”
Mirage doesn’t seem to want to answer the question.
“Okay, now I’m getting really worried. What’s the problem?”
“You’re right. The lab can’t just create this on its own. It has to start with a base organism...which we the oceans.”
“You found life in the oceans?”
“We found bacteria,” Mirage clarifies.
“You lied about the survey results! What did I say about that?”
“Another lie. I told you I would pull the plug if you did something like this, and here we are.”
“The bacteria is going to stay just that,” Mirage tries to assure her. “It’s not going to evolve into complex life.”
“How do you know that?”
“I used a time mirror. It lets you slide back and forth through time, watching how things change. I went billions of years into the future; Bungula remains a lifeless rock.”
“If Bungula remains lifeless,” Brooke points out, “then this project obviously fails.”
Mirage shakes her head. “I removed everything we’re going to do from the equation. I saw the future of this world if we shut down the domes, and left it all alone.”
“Time mirrors don’t have buttons. How did you input those parameters?”
“I’m a genius,” Mirage explains with a fake sigh. “I interfaced with the mirror. Trust me. I waited to say anything until I was sure, because I knew exactly how you would react.”
“Oh, you did?” Brooke asks her rhetorically. “Did you see me in the time mirror too?”
“I would never exploit you like that.”
Brooke shakes her head. “Well, it looks like you’ve already thought this through. Wadya need me for?”
“I don’t need you for this part of the project,” Mirage admits, “but your services will become useful in the future.”
“Well, you won’t be getting it if you do this.”
“I don’t understand what the big deal is. Bacteria don’t have souls. Dark algae is easier to contain than you would think.”
Brooke scoffs. “And what if the kind of organism your scientists created is unlike the kind you witnessed in the future when you were a god?”
“Stop calling me that,” Mirage complains.
Brooke goes on, “what you made could have unforeseen consequences, because if you’re not lying, and you only gave them a nudge, the algae could grow uncontrollably without you realizing it. It’s not necessarily the same black stuff the people in the future invented. This could threaten the lives of the people living here already, and I do consider that my responsibility, whether you’re the administrator, or not.”
“I can use the time mirror again,” Mirage supposes. “Make sure I’m making the right call.”
“You want to mess with the timeline even more? I can’t condone that.”
“There’s just no pleasing you,” Mirage argues. “You worry about what’s going to happen in the future, but you worry about what happens if we find out. You can’t have it both ways.”
“Sure, I can!” Brooke cries. “Time travel is a dangerous thing, which is why it just shouldn’t be done. If you didn’t find dark algae in the future, regular scientists would have come up with it organically. They would have done so with the consideration of ethics, and systems thinking, and it still could have turned out badly.”
“Don’t talk to me about time travel.” Mirage raises her voice as well. “You wouldn’t be here without it. You may be pristinely ungifted, but your entire life has revolved around time powers. Half of the people in your family have powers or patterns. You survived the near-destruction of your ship because of a time bubble, and then the actual destruction of your second ship because of a life-preserving time object, and teleportation! I told you we were going to terraform Bungula three and a half centuries ahead of schedule. What did you think that meant!”
“I don’t know!” Brooke shouts even louder. “It’s not the speed; it’s you’re doing it. You’re messing with a very delicate balance. I just feel like you’re not taking it seriously.”
“You’re the one not taking it seriously. Humanity needs protection, and redundancy. If Earth is destroyed, maybe people can flee to Mars. But what if Mars is destroyed too? We have yet to find an exoplanet with the necessary requirements to sustain life on its own. Even once we do, are we allowed to move there? Is it ethical to interfere with its own development? Terraforming a dead—or mostly dead—world is actually the most ethical option of all. You may be virtually immortal, Miss Prieto, but there are still a lot of vonearthans who will die in a matter of seconds if you open a door on their spaceship. We have to find a way for them to survive beyond the confines of one solar system, in some capacity, or the organics could be wiped out.”
“What do you know?” Brooke presses.
“Quite a bit, of course. To what specifically are you referring?”
“Is something going to happen to Earth and Mars?”
Mirage laughs. “They are never not in danger. When I was trapped in the higher dimension, I didn’t see the future; I saw every possible future. Even with a consciousness as advanced as mine, it was hard to synthesize all the information, but one thing I did learn is that life is always one rusty ladder rung away from death.” She pauses. “Bungula is not humanity’s last and only hope, but it’s important. True aliens don’t exist anywhere in the universe—which is something not even I can explain—but that doesn’t mean The Great Filter doesn’t exist. I know in my proverbial heart that a species that stays on one world is doomed to die out on it. You think it’s a risk to do this, but it’s a greater risk not to. I can’t make you help us, though. I recognize that.”
“This is how I’m helping,” Brooke says. “You don’t really need a pilot. Pilots are just computers these days, and you have loads of those. What you need is someone who questions your every move. I made a mistake with the survey; letting you do it on your own, and it led you to lie to me. I won’t make that mistake again. I will be with you every step of the way, and you’re just going to have to deal with the criticism, because every war ever fought was started because people in power refused to listen to reason.”
“I would appreciate that greatly.”
Brooke simulated a deep, meditative breath. “Now. There’s no life whatsoever on the primary moon, correct.”
“But there are ice caps.”
“Yeah, why?”
“It’s going to take longer, but I need you to do this for me. I need you to melt the ice, and plant the mavrophyllic algae there first. You can test in a lab all you want, but it’s not going to give you a very good understanding of how a specimen reacts in the field. Test on the moon first, and then we’ll talk about trying it here.”
Mirage nods. “That’s not an unreasonable request.”
Brooke shakes. “I wouldn’t call it a request.”
“No, I suppose not.”

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