Saturday, June 6, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Time (Part I)

Pribadium Delgado, Hokusai Gimura, and Loa Nielsen were standing awkwardly in the hallway. The former hadn’t seen the latter two in however long, and they didn’t know what to say to each other. It was ridiculous, though, because they were all friends. “It was a lovely service,” she finally blurted out. Mateo Matic was dead, and being honored on a very distant planet called Dardius. He was still alive, though, because...time travel. So he was around as well, though far too popular at the moment for them to have any hope of catching up with him.
“Indeed,” Hokusai replied.
“Yep,” Loa agreed.
“So, where have you been?” Hokusai decided to ask.
“Lots of places,” Pribadium answered. “It’s been a whirlwind. Do you know who Arcadia Preston is?”
“We do,” Hokusai answered. “Not well, but we know of her.”
“She’s the one what took me from Varkas Reflex, and transplanted me to a ship called the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”
“That’s Leona’s ship.”
“Yes, I met her at some point. Two versions of her, actually. We jumped through time quite a bit. I went back to Earth in the past. Now I’m here.”
They nodded their heads. It wasn’t much information, but they could discuss the details later, if there was going to be a later.
“So, what year is it for you?” Pribadium asked.
“It’s actually 2263 for us,” Loa said. “We came here across space, but not time.”
“Well, time and space aren’t really all that different.”
“Yes, dear,” Loa said jokingly.
“Do you wanna come with us?” Hokusai asked. “I mean, it’s where you were, which theoretically means that’s where you wanted to be when you stepped onto the colony ship. But if too much has changed since then.”
“Ya know, I’ve spent all this time just trying to get through the next hour that I haven’t thought about what I want to do in the future. Things have finally slowed down, and I don’t really know what to do with myself. I suppose I would like to see how Varkas has changed in the last seventeen years.”
“Quite a bit, actually,” Loa said. “We would love to have you see it.”
“How did you arrive here? Would I be able to latch on?” Pribadium asked.
“Invitations,” Hokusai began. “It’s just like with Mateo and Leona’s wedding. We just have to press this return box right here.” She held up the piece of paper that allowed her to shoot across space at speeds far exceeding the speed of light.
“I should be able to latch onto one of you,” Pribadium said. “That’s what Mateo and Leona did to go to their own wedding.”
“Are we ready then?” Loa asked.
Hokusai held onto Pribadium tightly by the shoulders. Then she initialized her return protocol. They went right back to Hokusai’s lab together.
“Everything looks the same,” Pribadium pointed out.
“Has as much time passed for everyone here as it did for us at the memorial?” Loa asked.
“According to the invitation, this should be a mere second later; just enough to avoid a temporal paradox,” Hokusai explained. “Hey Thistle, what is the current time?”
Eleven-fifty-seven Earth Central Standard,” a voice responded.
Hokusai went over to inspect her desk. Things looked slightly different than they had when they left. It wasn’t enough to make her think that she had been robbed, but perhaps someone had come in, searching for a pen. Though, if it truly had been only one second, that shouldn’t be possible. “Thistle, what is the standard Earthan year?”
Two-two-eight-seven,” the computer replied.
“Thistle, using all available resources, including stellar drift data, please confirm that the year is indeed twenty-two-eighty-seven.”
Working...” It took nearly twenty seconds for her to continue, but this was an illusion. The computer’s response should be immediate. This data was easily accessible, and while it was certainly possible for there to be some kind of error, it was unlikely, especially when it came to a question such as this. Hokusai was simply exercising her right as a flawed human being to deny the truth as it stood before her. Asking for confirmation was nothing more than an attempt at psychoemotional comfort. Artificial intelligence, at its core, felt no such desire, nor did it appreciate this kind of need in others. To make them easier to communicate with, AI programmers coded these entities, however, to at least approximate human emotion, and respond accordingly. Inflections, pauses in speech, and in this case, a delayed response to pretend it was searching more thoroughly for a solution to the problem, were all about making the human requester feel better about the inevitable conclusion. “Confirmed. The year is twenty-two-eighty-seven.
It’s been twenty-four years,” Loa noted the obvious. “We’ve been gone twenty-four years.”
“Why?” Hokusai wondered out loud. “Why did the invitation return us to the wrong point?”
“It’s me,” Pribadium said. “I’m the variable that the invitation didn’t account for.”
“Is that what happened when Mateo stowed away to witness his own wedding from the audience?”
“No,” Pribadium answered, “it took us back exactly when it should have once it was over.”
“Well, in that valid conclusion.”
“All things being equal, Madam Gimura, I’m the culprit. We can’t deny it. I screwed this up for you.”
Then Loa just started laughing her head off. “We’re all immortal here. We spent nine years on a scouter ship to get here in the first place, while you were spending slightly less on the colony ship. Time ain’t nothin’ but a thang.”
“Well, that was only four years from our perspective,” Pribadium pointed out.
“Exactly,” Hokusai agreed. “And just here, we only lived for a few hours, and now it’s over twenty years later. I don’t see the problem. When you’ve got eternity, this is shorter than an eye blink of time. Let’s assume you’re the thing that caused the delayed return: whatever, I don’t care.”
Loa was still laughing a little bit. “Let’s go outside, and find out what we missed.”
“See?” Pribadium began. “You even say that you missed it.” She couldn’t bring herself to not feel guilty about this, even though she didn’t purposely make them late.
“We’ve also missed everything that’s been happening on Earth, and Gatewood, and Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida,” Loa argued. “FOMO is a state of mind, but you’re always missing something, because you can’t be in two places at once.”
Hokusai stopped, and tilted her head ten degrees.
“Oh no, I know what this look is,” Loa said.
“Is she thinking?” Pribadium guessed.
“She’s inventing,” Loa clarified.
They waited about three minutes for Hokusai to step back into the real world. She was like a sleepwalker in that it would be dangerous to try to pull her back to reality before she was ready.
“Maybe you can be in two places at once,” Hokusai finally spoke. Though, she remained in her thinking position.
“How would you do that?” her wife asked.
“Extended consciousness,” she answered. “We’re already built for it. Project Stargate is building surrogate substrates for us as we speak. Right now, a mind can only be in one place at once, but that’s a very deliberate limitation. We could change it.”
“There’s a reason that limit is there,” Pribadium contended. “Hive consciousness muddies identity. You can move your mind from substrate to substrate all you want, and as long as you’re using a neurosponging technique, there’s no issue. If you want to spread that out amongst multiple separate substrates, though, who are you really? Are you everyone, or any one of them?”
Hokusai fully snapped out of her mind. “We can debate the ethics all day, as well as the technology necessary for it. That’s not what we’re here for, though. We want to see what Varkas Reflex looks like now.”
They stepped out of the lab, and prepared to climb onto a special hover platform Hokusai and Pribadium had invented together many years ago. It and the lab were both designed with artificial gravity. The mass and density of Varkas Reflex were very high, making it impossible for an average human being to stand on their own two feet. Transhumans were more capable, though it was still uncomfortable. Colonists instead lived in a special O₂-rich water, which they could breathe through their skin. They essentially turned themselves into water-dwelling creatures.
Unlike most people, Hokusai had knowledge of time travel, and parallel dimensions. She used her skills to generate lowered gravity for a given area by placing a different dimension underneath the regular one. A user wasn’t quite in one dimension, or the other, but simultaneously in both. She had built these dimensional generators in only a few key locations, however, including the hover vehicle they were intending to use as transport. It was gone, and seemingly unnecessary. The ground below them was perfectly fine, evidently calibrated for Earth gravity.
Loa was no scientist, but she understood what was happening, and why it was a problem. She was worried for her wife. “How is it like this?”
“I didn’t give anyone else the technology,” Hokusai answered. “Leona has some idea how it works, but the reason she couldn’t learn all of it is the same reason she couldn’t have done this; because she skips so much time. I also gave it to Pribadium, but she’s been gone as well.”
“Maybe you underestimated the people here,” Pribadium offered. “You left the tech unattended for two decades. They probably figured it out.”
“You mean, they stole it,” Loa said.
“It’s fine,” Hokusai said. “I didn’t want anyone to have control over it, because it could endanger natural technological progress. But I’m not Captain Picard, and this isn’t the Enterprise. The fact is that other dimensions exist, and let us do wondrous things. Time travelers have been hoarding these properties of physics since the dawn of man, but things are different now. We’re approaching the 24th century. Perhaps it’s time the vonearthans catch up. was inevitable.”
“Do you think they placed generators all over the surface of the planet?” Loa asked. “Has there been enough time for that?”
“It depends on how long it took them to break into my second lab,” Hokusai answered. While she genuinely believed what she said about letting them have this technology, it was still going to be hard for her to come to terms with it. It had more to do with the damage already being done anyway, and less to do with real acceptance.
They ventured out to find answers.

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