Saturday, September 14, 2019

Gatewood: Project Long Game (Part V)

What they learned after the departure of the Project Stargate ships was that Operation Anglo started in 2238, and went all the way through 2245. Saxon Parker cloned over a 162,000 copies of himself every year, which averaged to 445 clones per day. Because of a patented accelerated aging chemical process, by the time they were deployed for the mission, they were adults. While most of the clones were in their thirties, the eldest appeared to be 48 years old. Omega was one of the youngest, at only 25. It took a few tries to figure out how to stop the aging process once they were at maturity; a necessity brought about by a genetic anomaly Saxon happened to possess. This was still nascent technology, and its inventors didn’t realize how much adaptation rapid cloning required for each subject. He might not have needed to fix this mistake if he had asked Kestral and Ishida for their help, but he refused to let them into his secret cloning lab on a distant outer planetary moon, even after the truth of its existence was revealed. It was only after he sacrificed his connection to the present day to monitor the progress of part of the network of ships that they were able to hack access to it. It was here that they discovered his reasons for this.
The lab was enormous, large enough to both grow the Anglos, as well as house them. Records found in his office showed that he had almost nothing to do with their upbringing, but they were instead taught using a combination of neural implants, subliminal memorization stenanographs, and robotic instructors. The most disturbing part of the facility was the biowaste section. There weren’t dead bodies lining the hallways, or anything, but there was definite evidence of the operation’s failures. According to records, Saxon lost an average of one clone a day. The biomass had to be disposed of properly, discreetly, and respectfully. Ishida discovered that Saxon took personal responsibility for this nasty business, rather than having a robot take care of it for him. They had no idea what he had gone through; the toll something like that could take on a person. Perhaps they had treated him unfairly.
There’s nothing they can do about all that now. It’s been eleven years since Saxon left, and one year since Project Andromeda launched. Team Keshida and Omega have kept themselves busy as best they can, overseeing general maintenance of the cylinders and other stations. Obviously, these processes are automated, and the residents are meant to take care of most of it themselves anyway, so it only serves their psychological health. The lack of a major project coming up is starting to wear on all of them, but especially Kestral, who has a big problem with feeling useless. The two of them came to Gatewood nearly a century ago, charged with building the cylinders that would one day house billions of human refugees from another universe. Once that was achieved, and the refugees were all safely aboard, they moved on. They started writing code and manufacturing machines to build Project Topdown, Project Stargate, Operation Starseed, and Project Andromeda. All of those have successfully been sent off, and the instructive dreams directing them to these endeavors have now ceased. They don’t know what to do with themselves.
“Did you find it?” Kestral asks.
“We’re not really meant to see this,” Ishida points out to her.
“Right. But did you find it?”
Ishida doesn’t say anything.
“Caldwell.”
“Yes,” she finally admits. “It’s right here. Project Long Game. Nothing involves Gatewood, or any other colony world. They’re all about Sol.”
“Well, we have to decide what we’re doing next, so...”
“Here,” Ishida says with a sigh. She casts her screen to Kestral’s.
Kestral looks over the list. “Ring a Bell is the soonest one, and it’s not happening until 2300.”
Ishida leans back to see what Kestral is referring to. “No, those are goal dates. They’ve probably already started on it.”
Kestral frowns. “Sounds boring anyway.”
“What is it?” Omega asks. He’s wearing shutter shades. Not only is he learning everything he would have in a less specialized school setting, but he’s also catching up on Earthan historical culture. Right now, he’s mostly in the 1980s, but he jumps around.
“What is what?” Ishida asks him, “your terrible fashion sense?”
“No, what’s Project Ring a Bell?”
“Oh,  it’s a Dyson ring.”
He’s never heard of that.
“They’re going to build a whole bunch of satellites to orbit the sun, which will draw energy, and beam it back to relay stations orbiting Earth.”
“Cool beans,” Omega replies.
“Why are they building a ring when they’re just gonna build a swarm with Project Marching Locusts a hundred years later. God, that’s a negative term. They should consider changing that.”
“You can go to Earth and suggest that,” Ishida joked. “That’ll be the only way you have anything to do with any of this. No one’s heard of us. I don’t know why you’re bent on injecting yourself into long-term Earthan projects.”
They stop talking when they hear Omega chugging a disgusting energy drink. He must have figured out how to reengineer the formula using a biomolecular synthesizer, and reproduce the original can with an industrial synthesizer. The drink, and others like it, were never technically outlawed, but they’re so unhealthy that people stopped drinking them. If you want something like that, you have to program it yourself, because no one else will have thought to include them in any recipe databases. He squeezes the can, and bros out for a second. “Why don’t you guys make somethin’ up?”
“Huh?” Kestral asks.
“Well.” He opens another can he had tucked into his armpit. “It doesn’t sound like you have much interest goin’ back to Earth, though that’s where the action is. You have—” He tries to gesture around the room, but the can ends up slipping out of hand, and spills onto the floor. “Oh, shit,” he says as a robot is coming to clean it up. “Sorry.”
“What were you saying?” Ishida prompts.
“Right. You have all these resources, so why don’t you come up with a project that no one’s ever thought of before.” He belches. “I mean, you are geniuses, aren’t you?”
“That’s true,” Kestral agrees.
They sit there quietly for a few minutes. Well, Kestral and Ishida do. Omega continues to emulate what he’s seen men do in the bad 80s movies he watched by lumbering around and making inappropriately loud bodily noises.
“I need time to sit with this,” Ishida decides.
“Oh, thank God. I do too.”
“God didn’t save you,” Omega says in a low melodramatic voice as he’s letting the last few drops of his drink fall to his tongue. “I did.”
“All right, that’s enough of you,” Kestral says dismissively. “Acting like a drunkard isn’t any better than legit being drunk. There’s a reason people don’t do it anymore.”
“I’m not as think as you drunk I am,” Omega tries to joke.
“Ha-ha-ha,” Kestral says sarcastically as she’s ushering him out of the room. Once he’s been pushed far enough to go off on his own, she turns back around. She has a smile larger than any Ishida has seen in years. “One week. Let’s not see each other for one week. Work on some ideas, and we’ll reconvene and do a mutual pitch meeting.”
“I like it,” Ishida says, just as excited. Not knowing has become the fun part.

Now, when two best friends in the twenty-first century don’t see each other for days, they feel a bit of sadness. They miss one another. That’s not to say Kestral and Ishida don’t feel such things as well, but time has forever transformed how relationships work in general. When you don’t intend to ever die, skipping a week or two doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. This patience is only going to grow larger as more time passes. People will start to travel between stars on a regular basis. They’ll plan casual meet-ups years in advance, because it will just take them that long to get to the same planet. The two of them are so old at this point that they barely noticed the time apart. They were so wrapped up in their work that the time flew right by, and before they knew it, a week was behind them.
Kestral had some interesting ideas about building a planet, but conceded that there was no longer enough raw material in the system to make one the size they would want. They could do a moon, maybe, but the idea would be to give the Ansutahan human refugees a real home to live on, and a small celestial body won’t have enough surface gravity. Besides, whether they tried it here, or in some other system, it would probably be too large of a project to tackle at this juncture.
Ishida had a different idea, but they wouldn’t be able to do it alone. She pulls up the diagrams she created, and starts her presentation. “Lady and gentleman, I give you...Operation Extremus.”
Omega raises his hand. “Like the supersoldier virus that gives people superpowers, and then makes them asplode?” He’s currently working on the MCU continuity, and his behavior has improved significantly. These two developments are unrelated.
“That’s Extremis,” Ishida corrects. “Is. This is all about us.” She summons an artist’s rendering of the Milky Way. It’s packed with new information about neighboring star systems, but the Project Topdown telescopes are nowhere near the intergalactic voids yet to give the complete picture. She points to a distant region of the galaxy. “There is a star system somewhere in here with a planet that’s capable of harboring human life. I call this theoretical planet Extremus, because of how far it is from here. I also call the generation ship that’s going to take tens of thousands of volunteers there Extremus.”
“Forgive me,” Kestral begins, “but isn’t a Project Stargate seed plate going to get anywhere we try to go before we could get there? I mean, even at maximum sublight, we would probably only hope to get there right around the same time.”
“Not if we have one of these.” She pulls another diagram up, but this time it’s not one she created herself.
“What is that?” Omega asks.
“It’s a reframe engine.”
Kestral nods. “That could work; if you can get Hokusai Gimura to hand over the specs. What you have right there isn’t enough to reverse engineer it.”
Ishida smirks, and pulls up a more detailed diagram. “She already has. We’re friends now. Didn’t you hear?”
“I don’t get it,” Omega says. He’s an engineer himself, but he doesn’t know anything about temporal manipulation beyond relativistic time dilation. They haven’t kept it a secret, but they haven’t read him into all the particulars either.
“It’s an exploit,” Kestral explains to him. “It still only travels at sublight, but it takes the dilated time as observed from within the ship, and warps the universe to experience the same amount of time.”
Ishida continues, “so while the star is over a hundred and fifty thousand light years away, it will only feel like a couple hundred years. The reframe engine allows realtime to also only last a couple hundred years.”
Omega nods. “Got it. That’s bitchin’.”
“We don’t say that word,” Kestral reminds him.
“But I was using it—”
“It doesn’t matter,” she interrupts. “We don’t say it.”
“I apologize. I meant no disrespect.”
“So, wadya guys think?” Ishida asks, trying to steer the conversation back to her idea.
“What will be the point of colonizing the far reaches of the galaxy?” Kestral asks her. “Just because we can, and we can do it sooner? The vonearthans can’t know we’re doing it, which is obviously why you called it an operation, rather than a project. The volunteers all have to be from Ansutah.”
“The point?” Ishida questions. “There’s never a point to anything. If you want to do something, you only have to ask yourself two questions. One: is it impossible? And two: will it hurt anyone? If the answer to either of those is yes, then that is the only reason you shouldn’t do it.”
“Eh,” Omega says. “I think morality and ethics are a little more nuanced than that.”
Kestral breathes deeply. “As much as I hate to disagree with fanboy over here, I have no choice. We have to do another debate.”
“Fine,” Ishida says. “Bring it on.”
And so it was broughten. In the end, they decided to do nothing. Asking the refugees whether anyone would be interested in something like this was bizarre at best, and needlessly socially disruptive at worst. Project Extremus was scrapped for its failure to justify its use of resources. At least...it was scrapped by them.

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