Saturday, June 20, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Thought (Part III)

Osiris seemed like a genuine person, who legitimately wanted to help people. Hokusai probably needn’t worry about what he was going to try to do with her technology, but that was rarely the problem. Most technological advancements didn’t risk falling into the wrong hands so much as each development inevitably led to further developments. Sure, you have things like the Manhattan Project, which was specifically designed to kill people, and the scientists working on the problem of fission knew exactly that that was the goal. But most of the time, science must, and will, press forward, and the best one can hope for is understanding consequences. At first, dimensional gravity was used to allow people to walk around on this heavy world in designated areas. Then it was used to launch ships into the sky. Now it was being used to help people move around anywhere, with their own personal gravitational field. This all sounded very good and benevolent, but each application could transform, and that could happen in the blink of an eye.
Given enough time and motivation, someone with dimensional gravity could create an execution platform. They could launch a vulnerable living being into the empty, or they could increase gravity, and crush them like a soda can. They could create a handheld weapon that tore a target apart, with each limb being drawn in a different direction. They could design regular-sized missiles that traveled interstellar distances at such mind-boggling speeds—and thus contained ungodly amounts of energy—and destroy a whole planet. Plus, manipulating gravity also means manipulating time, so something like this could be used to imprison people for years, while only seconds passed for those outside the prison. These were just the risks that Hokusai could come up with on the top of her head, and they only involved the artificial gravity aspect of it. Tapping into other temporal or spatial dimensions could come with even worse consequences.
Osiris appeared to sense that her concerns had not gone away, which they never would. Still, he was determined to help alleviate them any way he could. “Come. I want to show you one last thing for the day.” He led them farther down the hallway, until reaching a very ominous door at the end. The sign said, Gravity Weapons Laboratory.
“This. This is exactly what I was worried about. I can’t believe you—!”
“Open the door, Madam Gimura,” Osiris said.
Hokusai could only shake her head in disappointment, so Pribadium decided to open the door herself. On the other side was nothing but a stone wall. “Is it a hologram?” she asked. To answer her own question, she reached up to find a real, physical wall.
“What is this?” Loa questioned, kind of protectively of her wife.
“It’s a symbol,” Osiris began to explain. “This is no trick. It’s not a secret transporter that takes you to the lab. The lab doesn’t exist, and it never will. We built this door to remind us that nothing we need is on the other side of it, and it never needs to become a room. As long as we’re in charge of this technology, it won’t be abused, and we will remain in charge as long as we’re alive, and if we do die, it dies with us. We’ve been very careful to quarantine the information. Only a few key people understand how it works.” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small spherical cube box with a single button. It almost resembled a detonator. He handed it to Hokusai.
“Conceptual understanding of dimensional gravity was copied and sequestered on eight neural implants. Every time we want to do something with the knowledge, those in the know have to access the data using the implant. Practical application runs directly from this chip, and into our hands. Incoming data runs directly back to the implant, and we no longer share information. I, for instance, don’t actually know how gravity clothes work. Nor does anyone else, except for Dr. Petrić.”
“What is this?” Hokusai asked, indicating the sphube.
“The implants are airgapped, and they come with a single vulnerability,” Osiris went on. “A radio signal sourced from this box will disable the implants almost instantaneously. Now you’re the one in control of it. If you decide to erase everyone’s access, that’s what will happen.”
Hokusai looked down at her doomsday device. “Will it hurt?”
“I don’t think so,” Osiris answered. “Even if it does, the pain will be minimal, and temporary.”
She now half-frowned at the device. “Okay.” And with that, she pressed the button. A squeal escaped from it, and made its way through the air beyond them.
Osiris pressed his fingers against the top right side of his head. It didn’t look extremely painful, but more like he had accidentally bumped it against the edge of the coffee table after retrieving his contacts from underneath. Tiny massive weights hooked themselves to his eyelids, and he only barely fought against them. He quickly succumbed to the fatigue, and collapsed to the floor.
“Was that supposed to happen?” Loa asked.
“It’s not what he said.” Pribadium knelt down, and checked his pulse. “He’s still alive, just sleeping.”
“I don’t feel bad,” Hokusai said. “He gave me the button.”
“No one’s blaming you,” Loa assured her.
Pribadium walked a few meters down the hallway to the emergency box. There were two buttons. One was for urgent need, and the other simply connected with dispatch. She pressed the latter.
Can I help you?
“We need assistance transporting an unconscious man to the nearest medical facility.”
A carrier is being sent to your location. It has been programmed to transport him to where the others are being taken. Please follow behind for routine questioning.
A couple minutes later, a hover gurney appeared, and wedged itself under Osiris’ right side. Hokusai and Pribadium worked to drag him onto it, so it could take him to the infirmary. An investigator was waiting for them. Five unconscious people were already there. The other two were hopefully on their way, so they too could be treated. The investigator was taking someone else’s statement, and adding notes to a computer system that had been grafted onto the skin on his forearm.
“This is what did it.” Hokusai handed him the detonator sphube.
“What is it?” he asked her.
Hokusai felt no need to hide the truth. “You should find neural chips in each of their brains. These chips contained very sensitive information. The box was engineered as a failsafe, to prevent this information from leaking.”
The investigator nodded. “The gravity data. Yes, I know of it. Why was it activated?”
“He placed me in control of it, and I decided to use it.”
“Forgive me,” he said, “but we’ll have to wait until we revive them to determine whether you’re telling the truth.”
“Of course.”
“I’m sure they are.” The scientist who was observing the gravity children before stepped into the room. The seventh hover gurney followed her through, and took its place next to the others.
“How are you awake?” Hokusai asked, almost accusingly.
“That’s what we need to discuss,” the scientist replied. She faced the investigator. “You may go now. I’m invoking scientific immunity for everyone involved.”
The investigator switched off his arm interface. “Very well.”
“I’ll take that,” the scientist said before he could leave. Then she snatched the box out of his hand.
A robot surgeon removed itself from the wall, and began to perform brain surgery on the patients, starting with Osiris.
“My name is Katica Petrić. I was responsible for human gravitational adaptation, and there’s a secret I never told anyone; not even Osiris.”
Hokusai figured she understood. “You’re immune to the button.”
“Not exactly. I mean, no more or less than anyone else who didn’t have a gravity chip in their brain. Eleven years ago, my colleague was experimenting with dimensional energy. He was taking his job beyond his mandate, and because of it, something went wrong. I had to go down and release the energy before it blew another crater into the planet. Obviously I survived, but the incident had a side effect. The chip—for a reason I don’t know, because I’m not a neurologist—released all of its data into my mind, and then it melted. I was under the knife for hours while a surgical robot cleaned the chip out of my gray matter. It could do nothing for my memory, however. That button won’t work on me, because I possess knowledge of dimensional gravity that can’t be erased without seriously damaging my mind. I’m more like you now.”
Hokusai nodded. “No technology is foolproof.”
“Are you going to kill me?” Katica asked.
“Of course not.” Loa was more insulted than her wife. “We used the button as it was intended, for people who we presume consented to the eventuality. We don’t kill, and if your team hadn’t thought of the chips in the first place, then we just would have trusted that you wouldn’t do anything wrong with the knowledge.”
“You obviously didn’t want anyone using this knowledge anymore, though,” Katica began, “so I agree to retire.”
Pribadium had been searching her own memory archives since the first time she heard the name. “You’re a Petrić, as in the Kansas City Petrićs?”
“Yes,” Katica confirmed. “Third generation.”
“Thor told me about you,” Pribadium said. “I mean, he told us about your family, and the other three Croatian families. You’re kind of the unsung heroes of Kansas-Missouri history.”
She laughed. “I dunno, they sing songs about the Matics, and Bozhena.”
“But no one else,” Pribadium argued lightly. “That’s not my point, though. From what I gather, your family, in particular, has always been fully aware of salmon and choosers.”
Katica knew she had been found out. “Every Petrić is born without the ability to move backwards in time, but we’ve all been protectors in our own human ways. I’ve been deeply invested in what happens to salmon since we found out what my adoptive brother and sister were.”
“Who were your brother and sister?” Hokusai asked.
“Mario and Daria,” Katica answered. “The Kingmaker, and The Savior of Earth from 1981 to 2034.”
“You don’t just protect salmon,” Pribadium pointed out. “You’ve been protecting the vonearthans from them. You got yourself onto this team to prevent it from growing out of control.”
Katica turned to watch the surgeon continue removing the neural implants from her colleagues. “I do what I have to.”
“Your story was a lie,” Hokusai accused. “There was no energy generation accident. You removed the chip, and kept the knowledge for yourself.”
“Oh, no, there was a definite energy crisis, and I did have to stop it,” Katica contended. “I also just happened to be the person who started it. If I didn’t do something to prevent them from learning too much, Beaver Haven Pen would have imprisoned them all.” She dragged her knuckles against her upper teeth, presumably as a nervous tick. “I modified the killswitch for the same reason.”
“Are you telling me this is a real killswitch?” Hokusai was horrified.
“No, sorry, that’s not what I meant. It’s just...”
“What?” Loa prodded.
“The chips didn’t work. No one else knew, but there was no way of sequestering the information. The longer the data was in their heads, and the more they used this data to invent things, the more their brains absorbed. Mine did it faster, because I already had some preexisting knowledge, but it would have happened to them eventually, and I can’t be sure they would have all been as noble as Osiris was about it.”
“What did you do?” Hokusai pressed.
“I didn’t just modify the button,” Katica started to say. “I had to alter the chips themselves. I turned them into gateways to the brains. When you pushed that button, it did exactly as you wanted, but because the chips were no longer the only issues, the memory wipe had to be more...comprehensive.”
Just then after a few minutes of recovery, Osiris started to reawaken.
Ever the mothering type, Loa glided over, and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I think so,” he replied. “I do have two questions, though. Who are you? And who am I?”

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