Saturday, July 20, 2019

Bungula: Breathing Space (Part IV)

Brooke, Sharice, and Mirage are sitting around a table solemnly. The fight is over, but they are still feeling the trauma. Brooke is this close to deleting the memory from her brain, but she can’t, because there is work to be done.
Mirage finally speaks, “I think it’s important to—”
“Shut up,” Sharice interrupts.
“Nobody died,” Mirage manages to say.
“If you don’t shut your mouth,” Sharice begins, “you’re going to find out what my namesake did for a living before she became a civil servant.”
“Wasn’t she a lawyer?”
Sharice stands up threateningly.
“It’s fine,” Brooke stops her daughter from doing something else she would regret. “It was a billion to one incident. And Mirage is right. Nobody died.”
“They did die,” Sharice argues. “We’re lucky their respective consciousnesses were uploaded to an underground server. Plenty of fairly normal humans were in that dome. Had they been exposed, they would have been lost forever.”
“We had ample warning time,” Mirage reminds her. “The biologicals were rescued first.”
“You made me complicit in a tragedy,” Sharice complains. “Had this happened to Dome Three, dozens—if not hundreds—of people would have been killed.”
“It didn’t happen to Dome Three!” Mirage’s anger is growing. “It happened to Dome Four! If you would like, we can talk about going back in time to prevent it from happening, but what we’re not going to do is go back in time and make your worst fears come true. There’s no point in worrying about a past that never occurred. Life is dangerous anywhere in the galaxy, but in a colony, on a world that doesn’t naturally support human life, it’s even more dangerous. There is literally an endless supply of bad things that might have happened, or bad things that did happen, but could have been even worse. I take most responsibility for the meteor strike, but I won’t take all of it. I put you in charge.”
Sharice’s anger rivaled Mirage’s well. “You glorified 3D television set!”
Brooke has to hold her back, like this is a rap battle gone awry.
“I’ll disassemble you right now!” Sharice continues.
‘That’s enough!” Brooke declares. “Nobody is disassembling anyone, and nobody is going back in time. As terrible as this was, I don’t allow time travel. I don’t just mean that because I can’t do it myself. No matter your intentions, temporal manipulation is always bad. It’s caused so many more problems than it’s solved, and I stayed here to be free of it. Most of my family is off elsewhere, but Sharice and I made the decision to let them go, because their lives are just too insane and unpredictable. Mirage, if I ever hear you suggest that again, or if I even suspect we’re living in a timeline of your creation, you’re gonna regret ever becoming an avatar. The time you spent in that omniscience dimension has damaged your perspective.
“Now. That being said, there’s a reason humans developed technologies beyond interstellar travel. Our ancestors long ago started realizing how much it sucks to be a standard human. Humans die too easily, and they don’t come back, which is why we decided to improve upon ourselves, so we would be more resilient. Sharice, this could not have happened to Dome Three, because it’s fully encased in a lava tube. Dome Four wanted a better view of the sky, but that’s why there aren’t many fully organics in there, because it’s not safe. All colonists came here knowing their lives wouldn’t be easy. Earth is the safest place for any vonearthan. Or at least it comes with the highest chances of survival. I’m not saying they asked you to lose control of an icy planetesimal, and smash fragments of it into the side of their dome, but they knew you were dropping them in this orthant. Unfortunately, the process of seeding the planet with an atmosphere wouldn’t have worked if we focused our work on only one hemisphere, or something. Right, Mirage?”
“That’s right,” Mirage replies. “That may have worked if we were willing to wait centuries...”
“Why did we not just wait centuries?” Sharice questions. “Why are you so eager to get this done so fast? Is something coming? Is something about to happen. You’re obsessed with 2245, like all is lost if we don’t make it in time.”
Mirage’s silence is deafening.
Brooke nods for no apparent reason. “It’s time, Mirage.”
“Yes, what?” Sharice agrees. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s time to tell her,” Brooke says.
“What do you know?” Sharice is feeling offended. “She told you some secret?”
Mirage emotes to Brooke, but they don’t exchange words.
“Fine,” Brooke resolves. “It’ll make her angrier hearing it from me, but if you don’t want to admit it, I will.”
“No,” Mirage stops her. “I didn’t realize you knew. It’s my truth to tell, so I better tell it.”
Sharice folds her arms impatiently.
Brooke actually had no idea what Mirage’s secret was, but she knew she wouldn’t give it up by request. Mirage had to think Brooke figured it out on her own, so she’d finally spill it. It was a tricky gamble, and it’s a miracle it was going to pay off. The problem is she has no way of conveying her gambit to Sharice, but perhaps that’s for the best, so her daughter can authentically express her surprise, and possible outrage.
Mirage prepares to explain herself. “In the year 1815, roughly seventy thousand people die in what history considers to be the most devastating volcanic eruption on record. Over two hundred years later, Meliora Reaver comes in possession of something known as the Muster Beacon. It’s capable of generating a massive portal, or thousands of single-serving portals simultaneously. Before this, Sanctuary was designed to save one person at a time. She would send her employee, also known as The Chauffeur to travel directly between Dardius and Earth, ferrying humans she felt needed to be protected from time travelers. Brooke, I know this is something you can understand. The Muster Beacon, however, was a huge win for her, because now she could save high numbers of people at once, without forcing Dave to cross his own timeline, and risk creating a paradox. Unfortunately, she and her team of scientists did not fully understand the technology. Early attempts resulted in nothing happening, but there was one time where it worked half way. They didn’t realize it at the time—and probably don’t even now—but they did manage to spirit away ten thousand would-be victims of the Mount Tambora eruption.
“Tens of thousands more died of related causes, but they couldn’t be saved, because the world would notice them missing. These closest ten thousand were pulled into a portal, but never made it out to the other side. They were, effectively, dead anyway. The Muster Beacon started functioning properly from then on, but that does the missing Sumbawa people no good.” Mirage closes her eyes in sadness. “I tried to rescue them myself. Bungula is destined to become hospitable in no later than four hundred years from now, so I figured that was the best place to put them. It looks like Earth, it has a good star, and...”
“And what?” Sharice presses.
“The Bungulans abandon it. I never did understand why, but they just up and leave, and vonearthans don’t ever come back.”
Brooke nods again. “It’s the life. They leave so that life can evolve on its own. Those bacteria you discovered are heralds.”
“No, but I told you that the bacteria doesn’t evolve.”
“Yes, you said that, didn’t you?”
“Okay, I didn’t see every single possible future. The point is that something went wrong on my end too. They’re scheduled to arrive in 2245 now, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I came down to your plane of existence, because I need this place terraformed before they show up, or they’re dead.”
“You’re trying to clean up your own mess,” Sharice notes. “And you? You knew about this,” she accuses Brooke.
Brooke sports a sort of hybrid smile-frown. “I did not. That was just my way of teasing the information out of her.”
Mirage should be upset by the trick, but she’s probably just relieved to finally be open and honest. “I should have realized.”
“Why didn’t you just tell us this,” Sharice asks.
“You heard your mother. She hates time travel. It’s bad enough that we accelerated the ammonia bombardment, and used dark algae from the future. If she knew the whole reason we were doing this was to fix a mistake I made when I thought I was a god, she might have put a stop to the whole thing.”
“You severely underestimate me if you think I would let ten thousand innocent people die just to feel morally superior,” Brooke says, saddened.
“I couldn’t risk it. They’re coming, in 2245. This world has to be ready for them. I don’t know how they’re gonna handle it. Will they realize they’re on a different planet? Will they freak out about it? Can we integrate them into society? This is just my only option.”
“Well, maybe it’s not ideal, but Sanctuary was going to reveal secrets about future technology to them anyway, so why didn’t you just build them a special dome?” Sharice proposes.
“I don’t know exactly where they’re going to land; if they’ll be the same distance from each other as they were when the beacon took them, or if they’ll be in one spot. Maybe they’ll be randomly spread across the surface. The whole world needs to be able to support human life.”
“It will,” Brooke assures her. “I don’t know the answer to your questions either, but if we can protect them from physical and emotional harm, then we have to try. The ammonia bombardment and factories are working. The atmosphere is thickening as we speak, the magnetosphere is holding, and the temperature is rising. By 2245, this rock will be ready for life. Though that does leave the question of what we should do with the colonists. I don’t think the Sumbawa would get along well with them. If they realize they’re on a different planet, they’ll probably form a whole religion around it, and the more advanced colonists hanging around would just make it too complicated.”
“Are you suggesting they actually leave?” Sharice asks. “Like they did in the other timeline that Mirage saw?”
“We would have to tell them why,” Mirage reminds her.
“That’s not such a stretch,” Brooke says. “They already know something’s up, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think they remain oblivious. The absolutely most optimistic estimates for terraforming any planet within twenty light years of Earth is two hundred years. Life takes time. Nature does it several orders of magnitude slower. Nothing and no one does it in eighteen years. We have to face the reality that the world is waking up. Many vonearthans already know specifics about salmon and choosers, and more grow suspicious every day. They were never going to stay hidden forever.”
“I guess you’re right,” Sharice acknowledges. “As long as Beaver Haven doesn’t lock us up for our crimes, then things should be fine.”
“Yes,” Mirage agrees. “And the worst of it is over. Now we just wait for the atmosphere to fully form. The next few years will be mostly about monitoring and adjusting. We can start wilding the surface after that, just like they did on Earth a hundred and fifty years ago.”

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