Saturday, June 13, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Gravity (Part II)

The three of them walked over to the Capitol building. Being such a vital contributor to the development of this planet, Hokusai enjoyed a special relationship with the Council leaders. That was two decades ago, however, so she couldn’t be sure the same people were still in charge. Much had changed since she was first growing up on Earth in the 20th and 21st centuries. It was a lot harder to stay in power if you weren’t very good at it. Civilians were no longer interested, for example, in electing a nation’s president for four whole years, with very little hope of recalling them, should something go wrong. This process started slowly, particularly in the United States. Checks and balances were first bolstered, so that the president and vice president were not elected in the same year, and were voted for separately. Then responsibilities changed, so that power was never consolidated into a single person. Experts in their fields were chosen to make decisions, rather than just anyone with enough money to run a campaign, and they were chosen by their peers, rather than just anyone who happened to live in the country.
Over the years, these changes grew more dramatic, until the world’s governments hardly resembled earlier ones at all. The colonies were especially different. They weren’t awarded their independence after protests and battles. There was no pushback in the first place. While Earth was completely in favor of maintaining healthy communication, and sharing of technology, colonists were expected to decide for themselves how they were going to run their own planets. If multiple factions rose up, and threatened each other, Earth would not intervene, except in situations that were manifestly unjust, or which threatened the entire stellar neighborhood. Fortunately, nothing like this had ever happened before, but many experts believed conflicts were inevitable, either internal, or interstellar. Hokuloa refused to believe that, though.
Anyway, Varkas Reflex was—not a party planet—but it was certainly hedonistic in nature. Advanced technologies, like universal synthesizers, and now this artificial gravity, made a happy life available to everyone. Hell, the whole reason this group of colonists agreed to live on a world with much higher surface gravity was because they were cool with just hanging out here, and not concerning themselves with anything else. They were here to enjoy themselves, because they believed that was the whole point of life, and was absolutely the point of a virtually immortal life. As such, not a lot of governing was happening on a regular basis. It was still necessary, and the people they chose to take care of this for them wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to, but it was also very lax and casual. Hokuloa and Pribadium simply walked into the Capitol, and approached the head councilor’s office.
As they would expect, he was leaning back in his chair, feet propped up on his desk, and drooling down his cheek. Hokusai cleared her throat. “Sir?”
He woke with a start, and wiped off his face. It took him a moment to find his place in the real world. “Madam Gimura! Madam Nielsen, and Miss Delgado. What a lovely treat. I heard you ran off to Teagarden.”
Who told that lie? “We were indisposed, Councilor Dazzlemist.”
“Please. Call me Gangsta. We hate formality.” There was no such thing as a weird name anymore. You wanted to call your son Gangsta Dazzlemist, no one was gonna stop you, and it was fine.
Hokusai’s anger about the dimensional gravity thing was building inside of her, so she had to take a moment to continue speaking. Gangsta just waited patiently. He didn’t know that she was angry, but it wasn’t like he had something more important to do. She breathed out like a mother in labor, and went on, “could you explain how this world has changed since we’ve been gone? How is there more artificial gravity than I built?”
“Oh, yeah, I can explain that. They didn’t respect your wishes to keep it secret.”
“They? They who?”
“The Varkan scientists,” Gangsta started to explain. “They decided to break into your office two years after your disappearance.”
“And you didn’t stop them?”
“This is Hedonia,” Gangsta argued. “Nobody stops anybody from doing anything without proof that it would cause harm to others. I’m not a leader; that’s a misnomer. I’m a continuity supervisor. I make sure the fusion reactors stay on in the sentry stations, and the habitat tanks stay wet.”
“You’re still using habitat tanks?” Pribadium questioned. “But if you have artificial gravity...”
“Some people prefer to live in the water. That was the plan when they boarded the colony ships, and that’s how they want to stay. Even more are on your side, and don’t like that your technology was stolen, so they stay underwater too, out of solidarity, I guess.”
“I need to speak with these scientists,” Hokusai declared.
“Okay, cool,” Gangsta agreed. “Give me a minute.” He stared into space for a moment. A normal person might be confused, but it was clear he was communicating with someone using computer contact lenses on his eyeballs, which he controlled using his brainwaves. “He’ll be here in a few minutes. Would you like some cucumber water while you wait?”
A half hour later, a scientist arrived. One of the more frustrating aspects of living in the future was people’s perception of time. Everyone knows that one person in their group of friends who says ten minutes, and means an hour. They’re always late, for everything, and if you want them to be on time, you kind of have to fabricate a deadline for them that’s much earlier than what you really need. This became the normal way of doing things after humanity reached the longevity escape velocity. If it didn’t matter that it took a person literal years to move from one home to another, because it happened to be located on an exoplanet, then it certainly didn’t matter if they were twenty-five minutes late for a meeting. Of course, the majority of the population was fine with other people’s relaxed view of time, because they were all on the same page about it, and their own patience evolved with everyone else’s. They were late, but so were you probably, so whatever. This was a difficult culture for Hokusai and Loa to get used to, however, because both of them grew up in worlds where such irresponsibility was completely unacceptable, and undeniably rude.
“You stole my technology,” Hokusai accused.
“Yeah,” said the man. “But to be fair, I didn’t think you were ever coming back, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for it.” This poor morality was, fortunately, not a universal trait among modern vonearthans, but it wasn’t terribly uncommon either. Crime was at near zero, because if you wanted a table, for instance, you just had to ask for it, and never needed to steal, but this came with consequences. While taking whatever you wanted was no longer necessary, it also made it more difficult to truly own anything. If someone wanted your table, then they might think it was okay to just take it, and put the onus on you to ask for a new one, instead of them. A hedonistic place like Varkas Reflex made this even more common, because their concern was only ever the consequences of their actions, rather than the intrinsic ethical integrity of them.
Hokusai was going to need to do some mental gymnastics to argue with a person like this. She couldn’t rely on providing him with rational evidence against his position, because he didn’t respond well to reason. “Well, I’m back now, and you shouldn’t have thought that I wasn’t coming back, because I never told anyone that I wasn’t.”
“You’re right, I never heard that. It was a supposition, and I apologize.” Now, he was apologizing for what he had thought to be true, instead of how he acted because of it. That wasn’t good enough.
“You stole something from me, and if it had been my spaceship, or something, at least you could have given it back later. But what you stole was intellectual property, and that’s just about anyone is allowed to claim ownership over these days.” This was true. Again, the construction and supply of a new table was a trivial and minor inconvenience for the people who were in charge of making tables. Ideas and creations, on the other hand, always belonged to the person or group who came up with them, and even if they gave it away freely, they still had the right to credit. In this case, she hadn’t given the creations away, at least not in their entirety.
“Right again,” the scientist agreed, “but I had good reason, and I won’t apologize for it.”
“Explain,” Hokusai said simply.
“Why don’t you come with me? I would like to show you something. By the way, my name is Osiris Hadad, in case anyone wanted to know.”
He led them across the dome, and into what was presumably his laboratory. Then he ushered them into a darkened room with a large viewing window. Another scientist was holding a tablet, and observing two children playing in the room on the other side of the glass. She didn’t pay them any mind, but focused on her notes. “These are my secondary children, Jada and Lysistrata.” A secondary child was the future-time equivalent of a godchild, or even a nonbiological niece or nephew. Should something happen to their parents, Osiris would step in to take care of them, and possessed the legal right to do so. For now, he did likely help raise them in whatever way he and the parents deemed was appropriate. The religious connotations died out years ago, and new terminology was formed to reflect that. He went on, “Jada gestated, and was born, on the colony ship that brought his parents here several years ago. His sister, however, is a dwarf, which I’m sure you can see, even at this young age. She was born on this heavyworld, and her parents decided to raise her here. Her doctors performed procedures in utero so she would be able to survive naturally this high gravity. It worked. She’s perfectly content walking around on the surface of this planet, with absolutely no further aid.
“Unfortunately, there was a side effect that the doctors didn’t predict. She can’t breathe the oxygen-rich water through her skin, like a normal human can. She can’t breathe this planet’s normal atmosphere either. For some reason, she can only live on land, under the domes. This means she didn’t meet her brother...until yesterday. I mean, not really. Obviously, they were able to communicate virtually, but they had never given each other hugs. He can’t stand this planet, and she can’t stand to be off this planet. Look at them now. My lead scientist designed the shoes and clothes they’re wearing. They use a compact form of the dimensional generators you built for us four decades ago, each set tailored to a different level of artificial gravity.”
A single tear escaped from Hokusai’s eye, and rolled down her cheek before it was killed by her hand, and its friends were destroyed before they could follow at all. Loa and Pribadium felt no such need to hide their emotions.
Osiris went on, “your invention is helping us promote this colony as the number one vacation spot in the stellar neighborhood. Even Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida can’t compete with their alien animal surrogacy substrate program. We have a roller coaster that spans the entire equator, we’re working on an escape complex that takes up most of the south pole, and construction begins on a Westworld-esque immersion experience a few thousand kilometers from here. That’s not all you’re doing, though. You also helped these two children find each other, and who knows what else it could do? I know you’re worried we’re gonna use it for evil things. It’s true that, when you can manipulate gravity, you can create a weapon that quite literally crushes an enemy vessel. But scientists have been risking this for centuries, and every time they failed, it was because they had something that we don’t.”
“What is that?” Pribadium asked.
His facial expression suggested the answer was obvious. “Enemies.”

No comments :

Post a Comment