Saturday, October 5, 2019

Source Variant: Planet of Hats (Part III)

Saxon talked a little bit more about Project Stargate, Operation Starseed, and two other interrelated endeavors called Operation Anglo, and Operation Soul Patch. Apparently, Projects are publicly known massive undertakings, while Operations require a little more secrecy, and are often used to support the projects. He evidently cloned himself millions of times, and sent each one of them to a different section of an unfathomably huge ship, which would break apart, and start exploring the galaxy. He was the OG Saxon, however, and was able to exercise a little more independence because of it. Following some research, before the Stargate ship was able to break apart too much, he switched places with one of the random Anglo clones, so that he would be stationed on this planet. According to early synthetical readings, the world that would one day come to be known as Orolak was rated at .982 on the Terrestrial Habitability Similarity Index. A perfect score would have been 1, so this was pretty good.
Saga!Two and Vearden!Three did what they could to help Saxon with his work. For most of the worlds that were being seeded with evolved human-based life, the first generation would be raised by some form of artificial intelligence, but either way, they couldn’t do it on their own. The humans were responsible for maintaining the growth pods while the Orothsew subjects were still in preliminary biological development. Once they were born, they were then responsible for protecting them, and teaching them how to live. They went over the basics: finding food, eating, sleeping, not killing, etc. They didn’t teach them any math or science. They didn’t tell stories of Earth, or explained how it is they came to be. Hell, they didn’t even speak to them, because then the Orothsew would learn English, and they were meant to form their own language. It was only their job to make sure they survived long enough to propagate the species. Once the first phase of their social development was complete, so was the job.
To unwittingly mark the occasion, they open a door to get something to eat, and all three find themselves transitioning to what they soon learn to be a different point in time. Based on stellar drift, it’s almost exactly two hundred years later. They had set up a little village for the first generation of inhabitants several kilometers away from the facility where they were grown, but that facility still existed, and it’s where the humans were living once it was safe to leave the children alone for extended periods of time. The place is still here, just as they left it, but automated systems had buried it underneath a hill, so that it perfectly blended in with the environment. Orothsew progress was still in its infancy, so any exposure to advanced technology could disrupt their continued social development. It’s not quite the Prime Directive from the Star Trek franchise, though. If the powers that be transported all of them to this moment in the future, then it’s obviously for a reason, and that reason probably doesn’t involve too much passively observing from a safe distance.
It does involve some observation, though. They look through the data the facility has been keeping track of since they were gone. The population rose at a predictable and steady rate until something terrible happened eighty-three years ago. An infection spread through the village, and though the villagers had the good sense to isolate all who were showing symptoms of the disease, they didn’t consider quarantining asymptomatic people who might have been exposed to the pathogen. All told, the population took a hit of three hundred and fifty-eight people, but it could have been so much worse. It could have spelled the end of the species, and Saxon has been reluctant to answer what they would have done in that situation. Though, to be fair, if that were to ever happen, the PTB would probably step up, and send them in to stop it. Perhaps that’s why they’re here now. Maybe there’s another disease coming, or some natural disaster that the Orothsew are woefully unprepared for.
Saxon is still looking over the numbers, head in hand. “Five hundred and ninety-one.”
“How many should there be?” Saga!Two asks.
He shakes his head. “Around fifteen hundred. More.”
“This happens,” Vearden!Three assures him. “Humans went through a lot more than this, because they didn’t have us.”
“Yes, they did,” Saxon says.
“What?”
“Huh?” Saxon has gotten lost in his thoughts.
“What do you mean, humans had us?” Saga!Two questions.
“Oh, sorry. Well, I should be clear; they’re a theory. There are some inexplicable anomalies when we look back at the hominid population hundreds of thousands of years ago. Our ancestors survived some things they probably shouldn’t have. These disasters were just shy of being enough to wipe out the species entirely. Humans from what’s considered to be the very first timeline ever supposedly went back in time and saved their own ancestors, thus propelling us towards a more stable population growth rate. If this is true, it’s before the powers that be or The Gallery existed, and the changes they made were so dramatic that not even one individual was born in that timeline, and also in any other since.”
“So, there’s no proof any of this is true,” Vearden!Three says.
Saxon goes back to looking at the data. “No, but there’s strong evidence.”
“You’re human,” Saga!Three says in a non sequitur.
Saxon stops dwelling for a moment again. “Yes, why?”
“Why do you know so much about us? Who taught you all this?”
He chuckles. “You people spend a lot of time talking to each other to get information. Word of mouth is full of errors, lies, and truths lost in translation. I’ve heard so many contradictory claims about who the powers that be are, and what they have to do with the choosing ones. There’s a whole library out there that’s maintained by The Historian. I got access to it, and I did what I do best; I studied my ass off. I’m not saying there are no inaccuracies or biases in those books, but they’re at least based on research. You should be careful when someone tries to tell you what’s going on. They may not be right.”
“Thanks, professor,” Vearden!Three snarks. “I’ll remember that the next time I travel to one of the dozens of other universes I’ve gone to.” It’s true that, after traveling all over the bulkverse in The Crossover, he has a few experiences Saxon could never begin to understand, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things he could learn from the legit astronaut. His advice certainly isn’t unreasonable.
“Vearden,” Saga!Three scolds.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Saxon sighs and moves on. “Well, the disease is over. It ran its course decades ago. I’m looking at atmospheric and seismic readings; I don’t see anything else that gives you a clue what you’re back here to accomplish.”
“What would you be doing if you hadn’t jumped forward two hundred years?” Saga!Three poses. “That is, what would you have been doing for the last couple centuries?”
“I dunno,” Saxon answers, “but I wouldn’t still be here.”
“Oh, no?”
“No, I would have left after the last member of the first generation died, which they already have. Once no one was left alive who was grown in a pod, it would have been up to the remainders to sustain their population unaided. If you do have a job to do here, I’m not sure I should even help you. I didn’t, like, sign an oath, or anything, but I wasn’t meant to stick around forever.”
“So our door cut you off from your job?” Vearden!Three laments.
“I should clarify,” Saxon begins. “Vonearthan intervention ends after the first generation in most cases, including this one. It didn’t have to be me. As soon as I disappeared, automated systems took over.”
“That’s comforting,” Vearden!Three says with an extended nod. “It doesn’t tell us why it is we’re here now, though.”
As if there were a correlation between his words, and what was happening in one of the now several Orothsew villages, an alarm goes off. A live feed from a microdrone disguised as an insect comes up on the main screen. Since none of them speaks the Orothsew language, subtitles appear as well. Two males are fighting in the middle of a crowd. They’re not at full fisticuffs yet, but their argument is as heated as it is petty. It’s over the hand of a mate. One of them will push the other, or knock his hands out of the way. Waggling fingers and rude hand gestures; this is getting bad. But it apparently can’t go further in the here and now. The Orothsew have rules. The duel is scheduled for tomorrow, at high noon. The three humans aren’t sure what a duel in their culture involves, because they don’t mention details during the fight, but one thing the monitoring systems know is that they haven’t invented guns yet, so that’s something.
“We have to stop it,” Saga!Two declares.
“We can’t,” Saxon contends. “We can’t go out there like this. Back when we were teaching the wee babies how to survive, looking human was fine. They didn’t pass that information down to their own children, because they didn’t yet understand. Even if they describe us generations from now, no one will believe in ancient astronauts, just like people on Earth never did. But they’re already developed enough to record quasi-accurate history akin to the Bible. We can’t show our human faces; we just can’t.”
“I can help with that.” A woman walks in from the other room. A human woman. The three of them take a quick glance at each other, but their facial expressions do not suggest anyone already who she is. She tries to shake their hands, but they’re reluctant. “It’s a good thing I’m not easily offended. If my visage makes you nervous, I can always take a form you are more comfortable with.” With no more warning, she suddenly transforms to look exactly like Leona Matic.
“Who are you?” Vearden!Two asks. He’s never met Leona before.
“My name is Alyssa McIver. I’m an illusionist. I can make you see whatever I want you to see...as long as what I want you to see exists at some point in spacetime. I can’t conjure imaginary visions; just superimpose real ones.”
“Could you, then. Umm...?” Saxon was uncomfortable. “Could you go back to your real face?”
She does as she’s asked. “I can help you blend in with the natives. I’ve done it a million times.That was my job almost a thousand years ago on the AOC.”
Now Saxon is interested, and more receptive. “So it’s true; the source variant theory. This is going to keep happening on other worlds.”
“It already has,” Alyssa confirms. “Source variants are fabricating aliens where there would not be aliens naturally. What you’re doing here; infiltrating the natives, and secretly helping to fix their problems? That’s what I and my crew did in the third millennium.”
“What year is it right now?” Vearden!Three asks her.
“Nine-two-seven,” Alyssa replies.
“What? No, I mean by the Earthan calendar.”
“Oh, you mean the old calendar. Three-five-two-seven.”
This freaks him out. “Why do they restart the calendar? Does the world end?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alyssa says dismissively. “Do you like hats?”
“Alyssa,” Vearden!Three presses. “Does the world end?”
“I’ve taken the liberty of guessing what kind of hats you’ll be more comfortable with.” She removes three hats from her bag, each of a different design. One is a snowcap, the other a driving cap, and the third is something none of them knows enough about hats to designate. “No one will see the hat, of course. It will just make you look like a, uh...”
“Orothsew,” Saxon helps.
“Orothsew,” she echoes. “Yes. When I was on the AOC, I would just maintain the illusions myself, but I’m not sticking around here, so Holly Blue imbued these with my powers.”
They take the hats graciously.
“I do have some more questions,” Vearden!Three says.
“Cool. I gotta go, though. Bye!” She may teleport away at that point, or she just makes herself invisible. Either way, she’s gone.
They’ll probably never know what prompted her to come to the future to help them, but they’re grateful. Now it’s time to go stop that duel. They don’t realize until later how absolutely vital it was that they stop it. Either of their deaths would have caused catastrophic problems later on.

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