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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Source Variant: Heaven Protects (Part XIII)

           Now things are really confusing. It was already tough for the Veardens and the Sagas to keep track of which Vearden, and which Saga they were interacting with. Who remembers what, and what have they been through? But now it’s all four of them, all together. They stand here awkwardly for a moment, in the Gondilak monitoring facility, before Vearen!Two breaks the ice. “So, you two figured out this was happening, right?”
“We had some idea,” Vearden!Three replies with a short nod, and a long blink.
“You’ve been dealing with the Gondilak?” Saga!Two guesses.
“Indeed,” Saga!Three confirms. “I assume you were in charge of the Orothsew.”
“That’s right.”
“So, are we gonna be okay?” Vearden!Two asks. “Are they gonna start fighting each other?”
“They haven’t been fighting,” Zektene explains from the computer.
Saxon is with her. He immediately jumped at the chance to look at a new system. “The Orothsew crossed the ocean decades ago. They came in peace, and they’ve remained as such this whole time. The drones report no history of violence.”
“Wow,” Vearden!Three says. “So we did it. Mission accomplished.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t any other threats,” Saga!Three explains. “Zek, what’s the last the drones saw of Cain.”
Zektene fiddles with the inputs. “He disappeared nearly ten years after we did. I think it took him that long to find it.”
“Find what?” Saga!Two asks.
“Don’t worry about it,” Vearden!Two assures her. “If he’s gone, that’s a good thing. This world should be safe now.”
“That’s not true,” Vearden!Three begins. “We still have to worry about the Worlonians.”
“The Ochivari,” Saxon says.
“The whatnow?” Vearden!Three asks.
“They’re not called Worlonians,” Saxon explains. “Ochivari is the name of their species.”
“Really?” Vearden!Three asks. “That’s weird.”
“Is it?” Saga!Two questions. “Humans don’t come from planet Huma, or something.”
“Well, that’s true,” Vearden!Three has to admit.
“Who are these people?” Saga!Three prompts.
“Bad aliens,” Vearden!Three answers. “Real bad aliens. Probably worse than the Maramon.”
“Maybe about equal,” Saxon claims. “The Ochivari want to destroy all life in the multiverse, so that no one else gets to go to heaven.”
“Then they must be worse than the Maramon,” Vearden!Two says. “The white monsters aren’t super great, but they don’t want to kill everyone. Their motivations are diverse, and their agendas nuanced.”
“He’s right,” Saga!Two supports. “I’ve seen what happens when a Maramon is removed from its natural environment, and taught right from wrong. They can be reasoned with.”
“Yes,” Saga!Three adds. “This world is proof of what they can do when they choose to be good.”
“Huh?” Vearden!Three asks. “What do the Maramon have to do with this planet?”
“They’re the Gondilak,” Vearden!Two says to him. “Or rather, the Gondilak are Maramon...their descendants.”
“Oh my God,” Saxon exclaims. “They’re the source variant, aren’t they!”
“That’s what Ramses called it,” Saga!Three acknowledges.
Now everything is starting to make sense. Both the humans and the Maramon chose to settle on this planet, but at different points in history. Now they’ve come together, and things seem to be going fine. Saxon and Zektene continue to catch up on the data, skimming climate patterns, and contact history. The other four mostly catch up with each other, even though this is the first time any of them has been in a situation like this. It doesn’t seem weird, though. Now that the shock of meeting alternate versions of themselves has passed, it’s actually kind of nice. Sure, their respective alts had different experiences, but there’s a shorthand between them that they would never be able to find with anyone else. Both Veardens know they can trust each other with their secrets, while both Sagas feel the same.
They listen to the updates that the other two in their newly formed group relay to them, but most of it isn’t very interesting. Current events have been pretty uneventful. This is around the same time Saga!Two and Vearden!Two were on Orolak in the second timeline, and things are extremely different. It’s satisfying to see the fruits of their labor, and to know that everything they’ve been doing for the last millennium hasn’t been a huge waste of time. The last thing they do before sharing a meal is show each other their funny McIver hats. Everyone is jealous of Vearden!Three’s beard beanie, which Vearden!Two recalls seeing once when he was browsing the internet in the other timeline.
“So, what do we think the mission is?” Saxon asks as Saga!Two is passing him the mashed potatoes. “I mean, why were you four finally reunited, and why now?”
“Well, this isn’t really a reunion,” Vearden!Two explains. “I’ve never met Vearden!Three here.”
“Neither have I,” Saga!Three says. “I hadn’t met anybody until all this, actually.”
“You know what I mean,” Saxon says. “You’ve spent centuries apart; separated on two continents by an ocean. According to our collective experiences, we haven’t gone anywhere without a purpose. But the Orothsew and Gondilak seem fine without us.”
“Maybe the missions are over,” Vearden!Three suggests. “Maybe that’s the point. We’ve done our jobs; preparing for the two races coming together.”
Saga!Three, Vearden!Two, and Zektene aren’t obligated to say anything at this point, and no one else responds either, but it feels like they’re somehow more silent than everybody else who isn’t talking. It’s like they’re avoiding the conversation actively, rather than passively.
“Okay, what is it?” Saxon asks, concerned.
“We went off mission,” Saga!Three finally replies.
“We weren’t supposed to help the Gondilak,” Vearden!Two continues the explanation. “We were supposed to kill them”
“Once we failed to do that,” Zektene contributes, “we were at least supposed to slow them down, so your people could wipe them out.”
“Oh my God,” is all Vearden!Three can say.
“That’s terrible,” Saga!Two adds.
“Well, it didn’t go that way,” Saxon reminds them. “What you did worked, and the Orothsew and Gondilak will never know how grateful they should be for you.”
“For us,” Saga!Two clarifies. “This whole thing required all six of us, and it required not listening to The Delegator, apparently to varying degrees.”
Vearden!Three smiles widely. “We should all feel proud. We stopped a frickin’ world war. Who else can say that?”
“I heard the salmon battalion stopped World War III,” Vearden!Two reveals.
“That’s an urban legend,” Saga!Two refutes. “They won wars, but they didn’t stop any.”
“Speaking of war,” Vearden!Two says, “tell us more about these Ochivari.”
“We don’t know much about them,” Saxon begins. “It’s mostly about three little Latin words. Loci non grata. Just the fact that Earth has banned all travel to Worlon space is enough to frighten me. I mean, there are worlds we don’t get along with very well, but we do try to interact with them on some level. LNG means no ambassadors, no mediators, no negotiations. If your ship has gone derelict within three light years of Worlon, you’re just straight up expected to let yourself die; it’s that bad.”
“They’re a Class XI threat,” Vearden!Three says, “which Saxon here evidently didn’t even know existed.”
“Really?” Zektene is interested. “Tell me about the classes.”
Saxon wipes his mouth to prepare for the lecture. “It’s a pretty straightforward ranking system for threats to life. A Class I threat would be to an individual; like a murderer, or something. Class II would be for a group of people...a mass murderer. Class three is city, then region, then continent, then the whole planet. Class VII threatens the whole solar system, while Class VIII the stellar neighborhood. As far as I know, nothing has been designated threat level IX for the whole galaxy, or X for the universe. And as we’ve said, Class XI is an entirely new thing, for something that could be dangerous for the multiverse.”
“Bulkverse,” Zektene corrects. “It’s called the bulkverse.”
“Oh, okay,” Saxon accepts.
“So...” Zektene begins. “Would these Ochivari, perhaps...possibly resemble dragonflies?”
“Um...” Saxon is uncomfortable. “They do, yes.”
“Yeah, they came to my world once,” Zektene discloses. “They didn’t ask for anything. They just started killing people.”
“What did you do?”
“We used our superpowers, and destroyed them right back,” Zektene says as if it were obvious.
“We might need those powers here,” Saga!Two says to her. “We’re not sure when the Ochivari are coming, only that they are. The Orothsew and Gondilak might not be prepared for it when that happens.”
“Well, how has Earth prepared to protect themselves?” Vearden!Two asks her.
“A number of things,” Saxon answers instead. “I don’t have all the details, but it’s all about SCR&M. Safety, Compartmentalization, Redundancy, and Modularization. The first line of defense is recon and early warning, of course, but for anything incoming, they’re also protected by a gargantuan shield that encompasses the whole system. There are trillions of planetesimals, and other celestial bodies in spherical orbit in something called the Oort cloud, only fractions of a light year from the center. Almost every single one of them is equipped with defensive and/or offensive measures. If something were to get past that, they’ll have to deal with the armada of reserve warships, a satellite fleet, and an array of surface weapons. For the people, it’s estimated that Earth could be one hundred percent evacuated in an hour. Other planets have fewer people, and less atmosphere, so they could escape even faster.”
No one says anything for a moment or two. They’ve also stopped eating.
“All right,” Vearden!Two says, dropping his napkin on his plate. “Let’s do that.”
“Do what?” Saxon asks. “Build a defensive contingency around this solar system?”
“Well, I don’t know that it has to be the solar system, does it?” Vearden!Two believes. “We just need to protect the planet. It’s the only place that’s inhabited, ain’t it?”
“Theoretically,” Saxon admits.
Vearden!Three stands up. “We already have artificial satellites in orbit, right? I know the humans put at least one up there. I assume the Maramon did as well.”
“This is the mission,” Zektene decides. “This is what we’re here to do.”
“Hold on,” Saxon argues. “We are not qualified to try anything like this.”
You are,” Saga!Two claims. “You helped build the quantum seeder network, and you told us about those gigantic telescopes just outside the Milky Way. We can’t pick up a hammer and some nails, and expect to get anything done, but we can come up with ideas, and you and Zektene can program the AIs to do the actual construction.”
“This sounds impossible,” Saga!Three can’t help but feel.
“I would rather try than not,” says Saga!Two. “If you’re anything like me, you feel the same.”
“Don’t you just wanna get back to your daughter?” Saga!Three asks her.
Saga!Two stands up. “I wanna protect her. Maybe this is how we do it, because we have to protect the human race, and everything that comes from it...even if it’s against something else that comes from it.”
Saxon shakes his head. “This is a tall order.”
“Then let’s find a ladder,” Vearden!Two and Vearden!Three say simultaneously.

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