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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Bungula: Baby Sitters (Part VII)

When the Sumbawa survivors arrived on Bungula, they knew something was wrong. The volcano in the center of their island looked pretty angry, but suddenly it was gone. All of their dwellings were gone too, and they weren’t standing in the exact same places they were before. No, they were from the year 1815, not 1815 BCE, so even though they had no clue what happened, they knew that they had been transported. Brooke and Sharice studied up on the Islamic religion, so they could better understand what the refugees were going through. A few appeared to believe this to be Janna, or The Garden, which was the Islamic analog to Heaven. Others weren’t so sure, because again, they were from the nineteenth century. They knew what volcanoes were, and had no reason to believe it was part of the end of days. Plus, this sure didn’t seem like paradise. It was great and all, but they still had to work and eat. They all attributed their salvation to Allah, however, which was a good thing. Their religious beliefs remained virtually unchanged, despite the inexplicable paradigm shift. They adjusted to their new lives better than anyone could have expected. Brooke and Sharice stayed close, but not too close. They watched the Tambora from afar, secretly placing listening devices in homes and common areas. They weren’t trying to gain state secrets, or even invade their privacy. They needed to learn the language, which was reportedly wiped out by the eruption They had no plans to interact with the people, but it was good to know, in case something came up.
Right now, they’re in the middle of an intense ethical debate about how to proceed.
“That’s murder,” Sharice points out.
“That is not true,” Brooke argues. “There’s a big distinction.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“One involves killing, and the other is just...not letting more life begin. Let me reiterate the more part. I’m not suggesting we get rid of the life that’s already here, but maybe we should consider preventing it from going beyond the current numbers.”
“Now you’re just talking semantics. You can’t sterilize ten thousand people.”
“It wouldn’t be ten thousand,” Brooke notes. “Some are already past their prime anyway.”
“Oh my God, you think that was my point?”
“No.” Brooke simulates a sigh. “I’m just trying to fix things before they become a problem.”
“Exactly what problem do you think will arise from this?”
“There are but a few thousand other people on this world. Or at least, there will be, once we migrate all the colonists back down on the other side of the planet. The Tambora will want to venture from their little island, and they’ll wonder where the hell everyone else is. They made a show about this, called The Society, and as you can imagine, it did not go well.”
“I don’t have to imagine. Those people weren’t on an actual island. The road literally stopped at the city limits, and was replaced by the woods. So right now, the Tambora don’t know they’re alone.”
“Exactly my point,” Brooke says.
My point is that they’re not really trying to solve a mystery. They were pretty isolated already, so this isn’t such a huge difference. I know you’re concerned that the population is never going to stop growing, and eventually people will want to leave. Maybe they’ll eventually invent airplanes, and see that Singapore isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and neither is Perth. That may happen, but you still haven’t explained why you think that would be such a problem. They already know they’ve been moved. We’re not sure they have good frame of reference for the idea of an exoplanet, but I don’t think they think they’re on Earth.”
“I think they think they’re on Earth. I don’t know where you’re getting that. Are you talking about heaven? The belief that this is the Garden is gradually fading away.”
“I think we’re not giving them enough credit.”
“If it doesn’t matter, then what are we even doing here? Why did we bother building a whole new settlement in the Southern hemisphere if we don’t care whether the Tambora can see the drop ships?”
“I’m not talking about destroying their world view with spaceships, mother. I’m talking about letting them develop on their own. That’s the prime directive. Now, before you say anything, yes, we’ve already interfered with them. Well, technically Mirage was the one who interfered, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do next. Just let them live. Let their population grow to whatever numbers it shall, and let them build seafaring boats, if they want. Our job is over.”
“So we do nothing? We just cut ties, and fly off into the black?”
Sharice shrugs. “Maybe. It’s like Mirage said. They’re living on borrowed time. They were meant to die. History thinks they died. We shouldn’t kill them, and we shouldn’t coddle them. Let’s just see what they do.”
“So, this is a sociology experiment?” Brooke was really pushing it.
“I think you know that’s not what I meant. But know this too; I won’t let you sterilize a single human, you understand me? I wasn’t supposed to be alive either, and I heard a lot of conversations about limiting my capabilities; basically by giving me the machine equivalent to a lobotomy. I won’t tolerate such ambitions.”
“I didn’t know that,” Brooke says honestly.
“Yeah, ‘cause you weren’t there.”
“I thought you had forgiven me for that. I didn’t know you existed, let alone that I had anything to do with the birth of your consciousness.”
“I know,” Sharice comforts. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“I get your point,” Brooke decides. “We can’t do anything to them, any more than we can do things for them. This is their world now. Or at least, their corner of it.” She grows quiet.
“I think I know what this is about,” Sharice puts forth.
“Oh, yeah? And what would that be?”
“You’re bored.”
“You’ve always been on some kind of mission. Even when you were stewing alone under the ice on Europa, you were on a mission to save humanity from you. You don’t like just sitting around for no reason. Ever since you were a kid, your life has been go-go-go, and now it’s like that’s over.”
“I don’t feel that way.” But Brooke couldn’t be so sure. “Do I?”
“It’s all right, mom. We can find you a new purpose, and when you’re done with that one, we’ll get another. We’ll keep going until they finish building the Milky Way, and then maybe we’ll jump to the next galaxy.”
Brooke laughs. “That will be millions of years.”
“Or thousands.” It’s Mirage. Last they saw her, she was organizing the drop ships.
“Well, yeah, if we were to go faster than the speed of light, we could essentially teleport to Andromeda, but I’m not capable of that. I don’t even think my umbilical cord necklace has enough power to sustain me through such a distance journey.”
“You might be able to do it without your necklace,” Mirage suggests vaguely. “You ever heard of a reframe engine?”
“No, what’s that?” Sharice asks.
“It exploits time dilation when approaching the speed of light. If you were to go that fast, Brooke, you could travel several light years, and it would only feel like a few days, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Brooke acknowledged. “But that’s just how time and speed work. That’s not really temporal manipulation. Even regular humans experience that.”
“Exactly my point,” Mirage says.
“But it would still take millions of years to get to Andromeda. It would just feel shorter. Everyone back home would be millions of years older, or millions of years dead.”
“That’s the exploitation part of the reframe engine,” Mirage explains, “and I believe it’s a loophole to your condition. It takes the span of time you spend in the ship, which is moving slower than the outside, and forces that span of time to exist on the outside. So you would still be going ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine percent the speed of light, but it feels like a few thousand years have passed for you, and it makes everyone outside the ship feel the same way. It’s this whole thing.”
Brooke considers the possibility. “Basically a warp drive.”
“Yeah, kinda,” Mirage agrees. “It’s much slower, though. People on Star Trek could make an emergency landing on a survivable planet in the time it takes their damaged shuttlecraft to blow up. In the real world, it would be more like hours, or longer, unless you were already within the star system.”
“So, you invented this...reframe engine?” Sharice questions.
Mirage chortles. “No, not me. I knew it was gonna happen, though. I’ve been in contact with the good people on Varkas Reflex lately, and the inventor is this close to having it figured out. I just spent a great deal of time on the phone with her; had to drop your name, but she’s agreed to let us have the specifications once she’s finished a full working model. She says it won’t be long now. Maybe a year.”
“So, we know her?” Brooke asks. “Who is it?”
“Hokusai Gimura. She’s with Leona. I mean, Leona wasn’t there, since it’s not her time of the year, but Miss Gimura agreed to relay a message, if you were wanting to say hello, or whatever.”
Both Brooke and Sharice would love to say something to Leona, if not directly. That wasn’t what they were thinking about, though. They were really just wondering what they would do with the power of a reframe engine.
Mirage goes on, “I sense hesitation. We’ve already discussed how we should leave Bungula anyway. It belongs to the colonists and refugees now, and if you’re worried about the greater vonearthan population getting us to replicate our terraformation methods, our best option is to pretty much always be on the move.”
“She’s right,” Sharice notes. “We’re already getting calls about doing this on other exoplanets. In fact, we can’t really even wait for this reframe engine to be finished. A team of diplomats is set to arrive in less than a month.”
“I didn’t know they were already on their way,” Brooke laments. “Where can we go in the meantime? We’ll need a quantum messenger.”
“I had that covered a long time ago,” Mirage says with a smile. “I sent a nanofactory to a secret location, in case something like this happened, and I needed to escape.”
“Toliman,” she answers. “The humans have no interest in it. We can hide out there for as long as we need.”
Brooke frowns.
“We should go,” Sharice says to her. “They’ll be fine. Our baby sitting days are over.”
“Okay,” Brooke decides. “Let’s go to Alpha Centauri B.”

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