Saturday, November 16, 2019

Source Variant: The Friend of My Friend (Part IX)

Two hundred years ago, Saga!Two, Vearden!Three, and Saxon use their advanced technology, and their McIver hats, to bridge the gap between the two separate groups of Orothsew. The Telijir and the originals needed to come together, and see the world as a unified culture, full of diversity and new ideas. It was not an easy task. The humans spent the longest they ever had in one time period. For a year, they introduced diplomats to each other, and mediated trade negotiations. A literal highway was beginning to take shape between their lands when suddenly it was the year 800 OAC. The abbreviation was a calendar designation that stood for Orothsew Affirmation Count, as translated into Standard English. Affirmation was the best approximation of the concept that the humans could come up with. The Orothsew decided upon it during the reunion process, as they were establishing themselves as a singular peoples.
Though the Orothsew were unaware of their origins, they were able to trace their history to about five hundred years prior to the reunion, according to stories passed down the generations. They figured their species had lived at least another century before that, and were astonishingly accurate. They were only off by nine years; an imprecision that the humans were able to remedy with a little dumbed down science. A year for the Orothsew, based on the planet’s orbit around its parent star, took 1.1383 Earthan years, so the math wasn’t too terribly difficult to calculate. At the moment, now two centuries after the reunion, it should be the year 4210. But based on Alyssa’s claims of a new Earthan calendar being created, it’s apparently actually the year 1610 on Earth.
Over 600,000 people live on this continent now, which is about half what the human population was around 10,000 years before the common era. This is sometimes considered to be the dawn of the human epoch, even though humans and other hominids existed on Earth well before that.
“It’s not half,” Saga!Two argues. “It’s closer to the same. There are probably around a million inhabitants on this rock right now.”
“How do you figure?” Vearden!Three asks her.
“The Gondilak,” Saxon reminds Vearden!Three. “They’re on the other continent right now, doing their own thing.”
“Oh. Yeah, I remember that now,” Vearden!Three says. “When do they finally run into each other?”
“I have no idea,” Saga!Two replies. “The other Vearden and I never knew what year it was in that reality.”
“You told us a little bit about their level of advancement, though,” Saxon begins. “We might be able to estimate a future date from that data. Well, the computer could, that is.”
“Does it matter that much?” Vearden!Three questions. “We’re either going to catch up to that time period, or not. How does that impact what we do today?”
“I fear we made an error,” Saga!Two says solemnly.
“We’ve unified the Orothsew.”
“Yeah, that’s a good thing.”
“This could be how it begins,” Saga!Two continues. “This could be why the Orothsew are so hellbent on conquering the Gondilak. In trying to teach unity, we may have inadvertently also taught them xenophobia.”
“I think that’s a stretch,” Vearden!Three disagrees. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. Maybe we prevented the war you saw in the alternate reality.”
“Or we precipitated it,” Saga!Two argues. “Time travel is complicated. You’re talking about an alternate reality, but that’s not exactly the same thing as an alternate timeline. When you call it a reality, you’re referring to the world as it is in any given instance. A timeline refers to how things developed over, well...time. How much of what we’re seeing now is different than what happened before? More importantly, how much is the same?”
“What do you suggest we do, Saga?” Saxon asks.
Saga!Two takes a moment before responding. “We have to come out of the closet.”
“What does that mean?”
“We should throw out our McIver hats, and introduce ourselves to the Orothsew as humans. You’re right, Vearden!Three, it doesn’t matter when your counterpart and I were dealing with this in the other timeline. Our best course of action is to start early, and show them that non-Orothsew aren’t all bad. So when they finally do meet the Gondilak, whenever that is, they might not have an immediate violent reaction.”
“That sounds like too much work for the three of us.” Vearden!Three didn’t say that because he isn’t willing to put in the effort. He’s just not sure it’s possible. Bridging the gap between two independent states is one thing, but deveiling a species so early in its development, proving that other intelligent life exists out there, feels like an insurmountable task, even if they had a large and well-qualified team.
The other two understand what he means. “I think it’s worth a try. Yeah, it’s possible that we ultimately make things worse, but I can’t imagine anything will get better if we don’t even try.”
“That’s true,” Saxon admits. “We’re here to do something, according to the Delegator’s directives.”
“Well, how would we even go about this?” Vearden!Three asks. “When I was living on Earth, humans expected aliens to come down in gigantic ships, usually landing in or around important cities, like New York, and Tokyo. But I don’t know what earlier humans thought of aliens.”
“I know a little bit about this,” Saga!Two begins. “When Vearden!Two and I were being sent backwards in time, we considered who it was that did this to us. We made some inquiries regarding what it was that people believed. We found that the first speculation about aliens from other worlds appeared sometime in the fifteenth century. The people we were around in the years before that time period had no concept of extraterrestrials. Of course, every species if going to be different, but if the Orothsew are anything like us, they are indeed far too young to understand who it is we are. Your point is well made.”
“I didn’t make the point,” Vearden!Two acknowledges. “You just did that yourself.”
“Now, hold on,” Saxon stops them from giving up. “You asked a good question, Vearden!Three, and then we skipped over it. If strange beings were to come, how would the Orothsew expect them? Flying ships? Teleportation? Crawling out of the ground? Probably not. But what about an ocean vessel?”
“They haven’t built seaworthy ships yet,” Saga!Two reminds him. “This world’s moon causes far too violent tides and waves for them to survive it. They’ve barely tried.”
“True,” Saxon agrees, “but they do have riverboats. The cities of Wonblajse and Dodeglu exchange goods, and experience seasonal migration, with this method of transport.”
Vearden!Three shakes his head. “There’s still so much to consider. Do we speak their language, or is it reasonable to teach them ours? Do we share our seafaring technology with them, or do we make them do it themselves. That could anger them, and either make things worse with the Gondilak down the line, or create friction between us and them. Quite frankly, I don’t think we can pull this off. Saga!Three, you said salmon from all over time and space were transported here by the powers that be. It sounds like it was a centuries-long enterprise. We can’t do this alone, and we have no way of asking for help.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Saxon contends.
“Do you have a way of contacting The Trotter?” Saga!Two hopes, or someone else capable of traversing interstellar space?”
“No particular individual,” Saxon starts to clarify. “I have the ability to reach the vonearthans, though.”
“Explain,” Saga!Two echoes Vearden!Two’s earlier imperative.
Saxon breathes in deeply through his nose, and the other two aren’t sure when he exhales it. “Follow me.” He proceeds to lead them down the hallways, and into a section of the facility they’ve passed a million times, ending up in a storage room full of random and boring replacement parts for the shuttles. “You have to understand,” he says as he’s moving some of the crates of parts out of the way, “I didn’t lie to you about this. I even mentioned it once, but I quickly changed the subject, so you wouldn’t dwell on it, and then you seemed to eventually forget about it.”
“What is this, Saxon?” Saga!Two questions.
Saxon goes on, “every single star system either has something like this, or will one day. Sometimes it’s built on a planet, sometimes on an asteroid, or even a comet. There’s a whole protocol the artificial intelligence follows to determine the most ethical and safest way to do it.” He moves enough of the supplies to reveal a secret door neither Saga!Two, or Vearden!Three ever noticed.
“I should have guessed something like this existed,” Vearden!Three muses. “What’s on the other side of that door?”
“I think I know what he’s talking about,” Saga!Two says, remembering something they never discussed after first arriving here. “It’s the quantum surrogacy room, isn’t it?”
“That’s right,” Saxon says, placing his hand on the door handle. “I disabled the link when I arrived here. I wanted to decide when and if other people came here.”
“I’ve been to a lot of different universes,” Vearden!Three says. “People often throw that word quantum around, as if it solves everything. What does it mean here?”
Saxon opens the door, revealing nothing more than a staircase. Once they descend, they see an entire wing of the facility. Dozens of more growth pods line the walls, along with all kinds of computers and other equipment. It doesn’t look a whole lot different than the rest of this place, but they can clearly see that it serves a very specific purpose. Saxon approaches one of the opaque pods, and flips a switch to make it transparent. Inside of it is a person, or at least the approximation of one. It has two eyes, two ears, a nose, a mouth, and a chin. Then it has a neck, a torso, two arms, two hands, barbie doll hips, two legs, and two feet. It looks like a person, but doesn’t really have any discerning features; like it was built out of clay, and the details haven’t been carved yet. It’s the base model of a human, but not unique. Surely these other pods house merely the same model, copied over and over again.
It’s the hips that really give it away. “It doesn’t have any genitals,” Vearden!Three crudely points out.
“That’s right,” Saxon says. “When a traveler—and I don’t use that word to refer to salmon, choosers, or any other kind of temporal manipulator—is transferred to this substrate, it doesn’t need to eat or drink, so it doesn’t need to make waste either. Nor can it procreate. This thing is just so the person who comes here can move around, and explore the star system.”
“It’s like a robot body that you 3D printed,” VeardenThree notes.
“Basically, yes.”
Saga!Three looks around some more. “So you’ve been in communication with Earth, or the other colonies?”
“Definitely not,” Saxon assures them. “And not just for your benefit. It’s true that you’re not meant to be here, but neither am I. Hell, I don’t even know if the greater vonearthan population has been made aware of Project Stargate, or Operation Starseed, by now. Most people may be completely in the dark, and believe that the only human establishments beyond the Sol were made with the fleet of colony ships.”
“Why haven’t you opened communication with them?” Vearden!Three asks. “Or, like, with the people you know already know about this whole secret project?”
“That is because of you,” Saxon says. “I didn’t know how the powers that be would react to this. I had the impression that they wanted you two to have to do all this on your own, and that my personal involvement has always been a concession on their part, rather than a mandate. I always thought letting other people here would anger them.”
Vearden!Three makes a closer examination of the surrogate’s face. “So you do have faster-than-light communication in this universe?”
Quantum communication, yes,” Saxon confirms. “We can send data, but not massive objects. Ships are still limited to sublight speeds. Though, obviously we all know FTL travel is possible, but a time traveler would have to introduce that, and the way I understand it, that’s against the rules.”
“It is,” Saga!Two says. “I believe you made the right call, not allowing the other vonearthans to come here.”
“It’s not guaranteed,” Saxon says. “This place was formed centuries ago. That’s more than enough time for the vonearthans to come here on their own.”
“True,” Saga!Two says. “We’re not too terribly far from Earth.”
“Even if we were,” Saxon begins, “it wouldn’t matter. We could be thousands of light years from Earth’s region of the galaxy, and it would still only take them a couple years to arrive. Like I said, this thing is going to be built somewhere in every star system. If they find themselves locked out of one, they could always access the next closest star, use one of the interstellar ships that the robots built for them, and come in no time. That aspect of the project is vital. I can’t remember the exact failure rate, but some of the factory modules we sent have, and will inevitably, experience functional errors. Some stars will rely on neighboring modules to fill in the gaps.”
Saga!Two sighs. “Well, like I said. I think you were right to shut this place down, but I don’t think you were right to not tell us. We’re both aware of how dangerous the powers that be are. We wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize our mission.”
“To that end,” Vearden!Three says, “nothing has changed. We still can’t open communication. The powers may destroy all the surrogates, and might even kill us for defying them. We do this alone, just as they intended.”
The other two nod. It might not be the best way to get the job done, but it’s the safest. Just as they’re trying to walk away, the computers start booting up. More lights flicker on, and the air conditioning kicks in.
“What did you do?” Saga!Two asks, not so much accusatorily, but inquisitively.
“Absolutely nothing,” Saxon answers sincerely.
“Neither did I,” Vearden!Three makes sure the both of them understand.
They turn around and watch as all the equipment starts operating on its own, including the humanoid growth pods. They watch it all for several minutes, afraid to interfere, and risk breaking something. Once it’s over, the humanoids begin to wake up.

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