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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Bungula: Boarding School (Part VI)

It isn’t over yet. Mirage secretly amassed an unfathomably large stockpile of seeds, which could be used to plant life on the surface of Bungula. This wasn’t, strictly speaking, illegal, though it did raise a few concerns back on Earth about the amount of resources that were utilized to make this happen. These concerns were quickly erased, however, when the large majority of the public, and governmental leadership, decided that the achievement far outweighed any issues Mirage’s actions may have caused. In fact, they ultimately decided to spend even more resources on it.
There is no true singular leader for Earth. Each geographically bound group of arcologies is governed by its own hierarchy. Any law is decided upon by delegators and administrators, which are supported by a cadre of advisors, debated by a representational congress, and voted in by the people. This is unlike the nations of earlier times. There is no animosity, and no alliances, between arcologies. People live in pockets of civilization, separated by large swaths of wilderness, for the benefit of wildlife, and for the diversity of humanity. That is, they could all live in one gigantic city the size of New Zealand if they wanted to, but that would leave them vulnerable to catastrophe. They only spread out, so any potential disaster wouldn’t be able to just wipe out the entire species. Governments are compartmentalized for the sake of logistics, but all of Earth—with some exceptions—is composed of one peoples.
Administrators for any given department form asymmetrical councils with those in other arcstates in order to make decisions that impact greater populations. They appear and dissolve on an as-needed basis, and are subject to the will of citizens living in all states involved. For instance, the Usonian arcstate might encounter an issue with passenger flights between one of their arcologies, and one of Canada’s. Maybe the flight path takes it too close to that of migrating birds. The relevant Transportation Administrators will get together and solve the problem, and then disband once it’s over. They may never form a council like that again. The largest ever created was made up of certain administrators from all 233 arcstates. Foreign Policy, Trade, Science, Health, Environmental, Agriculture, Transportation, and Futurology all worked together to figure out what they were going to do about the new development on Bungula. Not only were they okay with what Mirage did with the seeds, they wanted to send even more life. They wanted to send animals.
Now, this was a huge debate. How ethical is it to transport animal life from one planet to another? Would you send full grown specimens, embryos, or even just DNA samples? The trip takes about a year and a half from the ship’s perspective, so the former seems impractical. How would the animals fare under different gravity, and different environmental conditions? Fortunately, these debates had been going on for decades now, and though no right answer is precisely possible when it comes to ethical questions like this, the experts did come to a consensus on most of the topics. They had even already talked about what it would be like to do this on Bungla, going so far back that the planet hadn’t even been given a full designation yet. All that was left now was to decide whether to actually implement the damn plan, or if it was better to leave well enough alone. Animals are great and all, but they no longer provide significant sustenance to humans, and for the sake of itself is no good reason to artificially generate an explosion of life on a new world. The fuel expenditure wasn’t even considered a problem here, because the biggest question mark fell at the end of rational morality.
In the end, after a year of discussions—which was quite remarkably fast, given the intensity of the subject matter—Earth reached a conclusion. They would send ark ships to Bungula full of animal embryos for a great number of major species. Right now, they weren’t really worried about the common housefly, or this random protozoa that most people haven’t heard of. But literal lions, tigers, and bears were all on the guest list. The little babies, once born on the surface, would not be capable of surviving alone,  however, so code for AI parents, drawn from all the knowledge of each animal’s behavioral patterns was written to compensate for at least two full generations. Hopefully, a bystander would be able to come across a jaguar in Bungula, and assume it was alive, and not just a robot with fur. While Brooke and Sharice Prieto were planting trillions upon trillions of seeds all over the world, Mirage was writing the AI parent code. She has just finished the last line today, which is good, because it’s 2242, and the first ark ship is almost here. It’s time for them to have their own little debate. What should be done with the colonists? Should they stay, or should they go now?
“I know the Foreign Policy Administrator personally,” Belahkay mentions. They read him into the situation when he basically figured it out on his own. They didn’t give him any details about the specific people they knew with time powers and patterns, but they did explain that there are some people in the world who are capable of experiencing nonlinear time in some fashion. They wouldn’t have exposed their friends either way, but the fact that, out of the three of them, no one was herself a salmon or chooser made it so it wouldn’t have been their place to say too much. He was enthusiastic about it, but clear that he had no intention of telling anyone else. His personality liked exclusivity, so if everyone knew, he wouldn’t be special anymore. Though, maybe a few more people needed to know.
“Great,” Sharice says, not sure why that’s relevant.
Belahkay realizes he needs to explain himself. “He got this job, because he comes from a long line of civil rights activists. And I do mean that. He’s, like, two hundred and eighty years old, which means his parents literally fought for racial equality in the 1960s.”
They weren’t aware of that. The oldest person alive today who doesn’t have time powers is 283. 1959 was the cut-off year for virtual immortality. People born back then were the oldest alive to undergo longevity treatments and transhumanistic upgrades the likes of which Brooke once had that advanced fast enough to keep up with their further aging. Well, a few older people participated in very early reverse aging experiments, but these trials did not go well, and none of them has survived to today.
“Go on,” Mirage presses.
Belahkay nods thankfully. “Administrator Grieves is the most open and welcoming person on this rock. Like I was saying, his family’s experience as activists extends beyond his parents. His great great great grandparents worked on the Underground Railroad, so he knows how to keep a secret. You should tell him about the Tambora refugees. He’ll understand.”
“We can’t just tell everyone we meet about time travel,” Brooke argues. “At a certain point, it gets to be too much to contain.”
“I haven’t seen Eliseus strike you down with a lightning bolt yet,” Belahkay volleys.
“Do you mean Zeus?”
He shrugs. “I’ve heard it both ways.”
“That’s why I said at a certain point,” Brooke reiterates. “Not now does not mean not ever. We have to be careful. You could be the last person they let us tell.”
“Who’s they?” he asks.
“They!” Sharice shouts. “Them!”
It’s a joke that none of them appreciates, but they leave it be.
“Wull...” Belahkay begins, “I’ll tell him.”
“You’re not immune to the danger,” Brooke says.
“I know,” he responds. “I’m willing to risk it, though, and that’s more than you can say right now.”
Brooke and Sharice both look to Mirage for her opinion. “What? I kind of coerced you two into doing any of this. I don’t think I’m the right one to make this decision. I want the refugees to survive. What happens to them after that is not my concern. They’ll be living on borrowed time anyway, so if they learn they’re in the 23rd century, then all right.”
“So, that’s the question, isn’t it?” Brooke poses. “We either tell the colonists about the time traveling refugees, or we risk the refugees finding out about the colonists, and their grand technology. In that second scenario, the colonists also find out where the refugees come from, so it’s lose-lose.”
“It sounds like our only option is to try the first one,” Sharice determines. “That’s why I’ve always hated that song.”
“Which song is this?” Brooke questions.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” Sharice answers. “The lyrics go on to lament that there will be trouble if he goes, but it will be doubled if he stays. Well, obviously you choose the lesser of two evils, and make as little trouble for yourself as possible. That’s not a dilemma. All we can do is be honest with the colonists, and hope it works out. If we really can’t exercise any control over how the refugees’ reappear in the timestream, then that’s the only right choice.”
They sit with this a moment, then they call for help.
“There’s a third option," Administrator Grieves offers. Beaver Haven Prison would probably rather they tell this one person than leak the secret to the whole galaxy.
“We were hoping you would say that,” Belahkay rejoices.
“We can get the colonists off-world, for years on end. Put ‘em to sleep, and say they can come back when it’s safe.”
“What would make it unsafe?” Mirage asks. “Do you suggest we claim the terraformation caused some unforeseeable catastrophe?” She surely didn’t like the idea that history would remember her work as anything but a perfect masterpiece.
“No need,” Admin Grieves assures them. “We already have the puzzle pieces; we just need to put them on the board. Right now, three ark ships are scheduled to arrive within a span of five months. You built us a plan to trick the animals on board into believing their parents are real. The only way you could do that was to program the robot parents to essentially think they are real, correct?”
“Yes,” Mirage confirms. “They won’t know they’re robots. Each bot’s intelligence is equal to what it would be if they were actually whatever animals they’re meant to look and act like. I’m not following your logic, though.”
“You can’t program the animals to live a certain way. You’ve just programmed them to live however it is they should. Perhaps they don’t like where the shuttle dropped them off. Maybe they’ll seek higher ground, or a better water source. Maybe their organic offspring will multiply faster than our studies of the same species of Earth tell us they would, because this is still a different planet, and we don’t know for sure how they’ll function on it.”
“This is all true,” Mirage agrees.
“Humans and other vonearthans are a danger to that. There’s a reason we outlawed zoos a long time ago, and why scientists are investing heavily in human consciousness transference to animal substrates. We don’t want to disturb nature, so let’s tell the colonists that. We’ve realized that the animals may not survive if they’re exposed too quickly to evolved species. We have to let them roam free for a while before we drop back down. We have to understand their migration habits, and respective growth rates, so when we finally do return, we can do so with the least amount of commotion.”
“Will they accept that?” Brooke questions. “Will they all just allow us to send them back up into space, after all they’ve been through? We finally built a self-sustaining habitable world outside Earth, and we’re asking them to be patient?”
“They’ll understand why, because it’s not an unreasonable request. In fact, we should probably do it anyway, refugees or no. I’m not sure how much she thought it through, but an Environmental Advisor from the Kansas City arcstate had concerns about this very thing. I don’t know why she never officially brought the issue to the floor, but it’s a valid concern.”
The four people listening to this idea quietly reflect on it.
“Besides,” Admin Grieves continues, “they’ll be in stasis, as well will everyone they care about. 2243, 2263; it’ll feel like a few moments have passed no matter how long we leave them up there, and it makes little difference to them.”
Belahkay smiles. “I told you to tell him about this, didn’t I? It was a pretty good idea bringing his brilliant mind in on this, eh?”
“Yes,” Brooke acknowledges. “Telling him was a good idea, and telling the colonists the animal preservation story is a better one. I think this could work. I’ve not interacted with these people a whole hell of a lot, but they seem to want to do the right thing. I think they’ll go for it.”
“All right,” Mirage says, determined. “Let’s discuss specifics.”
They made a plan, and followed through. Three years later, the Indonesian refugees suddenly appeared on Bungula, and it turned out to have all been much ado about nothing, because they showed up on a single island not unlike the one they were living on before. The colonists probably could have stayed.

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