Saturday, September 7, 2019

Gatewood: Project Stargate (Part IV)

Six years ago, Kestral and Ishida bid farewell to their briefly-known new friends, Étude and Vitalie. “May the Fourth be with you,” Saxon enthused to them through his comms device, from his doghouse. It was indeed the fourth day of May, according to the present calendar. Way out here, time was a little harder to keep track of. Of course, all three of them were literal geniuses, but they were no longer orbiting the home star, nor paying much attention to the Earthan calendar. Their transhumanistic enhancements allowed them to exercise greater control over their circadian rhythms, so not even the day-night cycle meant much to them. They really only cared about the time when they had a new mission to launch, which was today, six years later.
The year is 2250, and it’s finally time for the main event. Project Stargate. There’s another major project coming up in another ten years, but its endgame won’t happen for millions of years, and there’s a lot less work involved leading up to it. They’re really just waiting for present-day technology to catch up with their needs. Ninety-nine with four more nines tacked on after the decimal point is the fraction of the speed of light humans figure they’re allowed to move. Add one more nine, and experts treat the difference between you and a photon as a rounding error. They assume that to be impossible. Having been introduced to the world of time travelers, Team Keshidon is fully aware that faster-than-light travel is not only possible, but almost kinda common. People like Maqsud Al-Amin jump to other stars without breaking a sweat—other galaxies even. That’s what Project Andromeda is all about. A relatively small and unassuming unmanned vessel will be sent towards the nearest galaxy, joined only by a few backup ships. They’ll be going almost as fast as light without breaking any natural laws. But for now, two nines after the decimal point will have to do.
Project Stargate is the most ambitious thing humanity has ever endeavored. Billions of modules will attempt to reach every single star system in the Milky Way. It’s gonna take a long-ass time, but the majority of vonearthans are essentially immortal now. This gives them a degree of patience previously unfathomable to even the most forward-thinking futurists. The fruits of their labor could come to them more rapidly, however. Experts estimate as much as two percent of the stars in the galaxy are capable of supporting a biological human, and maybe three percent some other form of life. If these numbers sound low, keep in mind there are at least two hundred billion stars total, and probably many more. That’s upwards of a couple billion habitable worlds, some of which are likely to be within only a hundred light years. A respected scientist once noted that the chances of not finding intelligent alien life within 3,000 light years are approaching zero. On the dark side, her partner mused that the chances of finding hostile aliens within 4,000 years are approaching one.
By now, Saxon has been fully relieved of his duties in the doghouse. After many serious conversations, Kestral and Ishida came to accept the idea of Operation Soul Patch. They didn’t entirely agree with it, but their gripes were mostly about being lied to. That was less Saxon’s responsibility, and more due to the direction of Earthan leadership. The three of them are now on Gatewood to do Earth’s bidding, so complaining about their demands is a bit like whining about one’s boss. They could quit at any time, and no one would be able to stop them. They don’t want to do that, though, because they believe in the mission as a whole. The galaxy is full of wonders and secret knowledge, and humanity has a right to that information. They have a right to know what else is out there, and Team Keshidon should just feel lucky to be a vital driving force for that enterprise.
“Are ya gonna act like you did ten years ago?” Ishida asks affectionately.
“Whatever do you mean?” Kestral immediately regrets responding in this way. She does remember her outward anxiety when they were launching the void telescope array. She doesn’t want to prompt any further discussion on the matter. Everything for Project Stargate and Operation Starseed has been checked, double checked, triple checked, and then some. It’s ready to go, and she’s never been more sure of anything in her life, including all those days on Earth when she trusted the sun would come out tomorrow.
While Kestral’s words might sound like she’s willing to joke about her past behavior, Ishida knows her partner better than she knows herself. Kestral doesn’t wanna talk about it, so Ishida drops it. She takes a deep breath and marvels at their craftsmanship. Well, they weren’t the ones who actually built the damn thing. Robots did all the work, but they wouldn’t have been able to pick up a single screw without being programmed, and properly maintained. The countdown has begun. All they’re waiting for now is to watch the vessels head off to the great unknown.
Right now, they’re staring at two turtle shells—also known as quad carriers—floating one on top of the other, the backs of which are facing opposite directions. The initial coordinate system broke the relatively flat galaxy into two planes, each about five hundred light years thick. So, like the two separate telescope arrays, each shell will handle one plane on their own. They’ll separate further, into eight tier droppers, one of which will handle their own planar quadrant. These will break apart into sixty-four arc distributors, then a thousand and twenty-four voussoir splitters, over seventeen thousand rankfile movers, more than a million sector senders, and more than a hundred and forty million seed capsules.
Each of these modules is capable of self-propulsion, to decreasing degrees, but a seed plate will rely primarily on the momentum afforded to it by the capsule that released it. It will only decelerate by the gravity of the celestial bodies in the first star system that it enters. If it needs to increase speed, or alter direction, it will expand its solar sails, or sparingly use maneuvering thrusters.
“Saxon, are all your people in place?” Kestral asks.
Saxon is frowning at his tablet. “Everyone is in stasis, except for one.”
“What’s he doing?”
He taps on the screen a few times. “Anglo one-one-three-two-six-two-two, is there something wrong with your stasis pod?”
Yes,” Anglo 1132622 answers.
“Can you repair it, or do you need assistance?”
It is in perfect working order. It is not in need of repair.
“You said there was something wrong,” Saxon reminds him.
There is. I don’t wanna get in it. Get me off this ship.
“Is he claustrophobic?” Ishida asks Saxon, off comms.
“I’m not, so he can’t be.”
“You don’t know that,” Kestral informs him. “He’s an independent being.”
Saxon sighs in frustration. “No. He’s not.” He goes back to the microphone, “Anglo 1132622, please explain.”
That’s not my name.
“No, you don’t have a name. That is your designation, though.”
My name is Omega,” Anglo 1132622 claims.
“Why? Because you happen to be last in designation? That doesn’t mean anything. Your rankfile isn’t even the farthest from the stellar neighborhood. The numbers are just to tell you apart.”
You can tell me apart,” Omega begins, “because I’m a different person from all the other clones.
Now Saxon is getting really upset. “No, you aren’t! You were grown using my DNA. You were given enough mental faculties to put one foot in front of the other, and fix a fucking fuel line. You don’t have any memories, you don’t have any desires, and you don’t have a soul!”
“Calm down, Parker,” Kestral orders.
I do have a soul!” Omega screams.
“No!” Saxon cries. “You are Anglo one-one-three-two-six-two-two! You have been assigned your rankfile, and will fulfill your duty. Step into the stasis chamber, activate it, and go to bed! Right now, mister!”
The Nazis assigned prisoners numbers during the second great war.
“Who the hell gave him access to the historical records,” Saxon asks rhetorically.
“Parker,” Kestral says, not getting angry herself. “You can’t trust him anymore. If you force him into that pod, and something goes wrong with his rankfile ship, he won’t do anything to fix it anyway. He might not even have the sense for self-preservation.”
“I think he’s proven he has a strong instinct for self-preservation,” Ishida argues. “He’s scared, and he doesn’t wanna go.”
“Either way,” Kestral says noncombatively. “He’s an unreliable worker. Quite frankly, we should all be surprised there’s only one dissenting voice, and that he hasn’t appeared to form a rebellion.”
“We don’t have time to make another clone to replace him,” Saxon reminds them. “I’ve been growing them for twelve years. The most successful rapid aging technology is only about six times faster than average development, and I only have access to times four.”
“His ship won’t have an Anglo unit,” Kestral determines.
Saxon scoffs. “We can’t do that.”
“Yes, we can. I wasn’t originally planning to have any clones. I had never even heard the idea before your secret got out.”
“Kestral, he’s in charge of a hundred and twenty-eight capsules.”
She knows this.
“That’s almost thirteen thousand plates!”
She knows this as well.
“Hundreds of thousands of star systems,” he says in a quieter voice, hoping the high number is enough to make them shiver.
“They’ll have to do without him.”
“I can’t accept that.” He drops his arms to his side in exasperation, but he does it with so much force that his tablet falls to the floor. He makes no effort to retrieve it. He can see that Kestral and Ishida aren’t going to help him, and also that there’s not much they can do, even if they tried. “No. I can’t let this project fail. It’s too important.” And with that, he runs off as fast as his legs will take him.
“Are we chasing after him?” Ishida asks.
“I’m not sure where’s he going,” Kestral says with one popped eyebrow.
They watch as an escape pod releases from their observation ship, and heads for the turtle shells.
“He’s going out to force Omega into that chamber,” Ishida notes.
Kestral shakes her head, and opens up a channel. “Saxon, I’m telling you. He won’t do you any good in that rankfile ship. If something goes wrong, yeah, he might fix it to save his life. But he also might sabotage the whole damn thing, and just find somewhere to land. This a pointless pursuit.”
Saxon doesn’t reply.
Kestral is still shaking her head. “Ishida, emergency teleport.”
“I’ve been trying,” Ishida says. “Saxon knows how to block the signal.”
“I’m not talking about him. Get Omega here right now.”
“Really?”
Do it! Parker just docked with his turtle shell.”
“Okay,” Ishida says, desperately trying to make the calculations. It’s easy to teleport someone if they have a location device tailored for that function, but there was no need to design the ships with the feature. She has to figure out exactly where he is, then draw him to them manually. It is not an easy task.
“Ishida, now!”
“I got it!” She presses the execute button.
Omega appears right where Saxon was standing moments ago. He looks around, relieved.
Kestral goes back to her comms. “Parker, Omega is with us. So if you want to talk to him, you’re gonna have to do it here.”
He still doesn’t say anything.
“Parker, you have thirty seconds to get off that ship. I can’t stop the launch.”
Nothing.
“Parker, get the fuck off that thing! You’re gonna be moving at lightspeed in a matter of minutes! You won’t be able to leave if you don’t do it right goddamn now!”
Still nothing.
“Parker!”
This isn’t Parker,” Saxon finally responds. “It’s Anglo Alpha.
“What?” Ishida questions.
He’s the replacement,” Kestral realizes. “Saxon—”
Anglo Alpha!” he corrects.
“Anglo Alpha. You don’t have to do this. I designed the systems myself, and I designed them to be self-sufficient. You don’t have to be there.”
He waits to say anything more as the seconds drop uncomfortably low, but they can hear him exhale deeply through his nose. “Yes, I do. Omega is a child. Teach him how to be a good person. Don’t let him grow up to be a dick like me.
“Saxon, come back,” Ishida begs.
“It’s too late,” Kestral says.
I love you both,” Anglo Alpha says just before blast off. The ships leave so fast, it almost feels like they were never really there.
Omega is staring out the window in horror. “I didn’t mean for him to do this.” He starts tearing up. “I just wanted to live a life.”
Ishida places her hand on his shoulder. “We understand. He gave you that opportunity.”
“Yes, he did,” Kestral agrees. “Don’t waste it.”

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