Saturday, July 4, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Force (Part V)

Iota Leonis was a triple star system located about seventy-nine light years from Earth, but not quite that far from Wolf 359. Iota Leonis B, in particular, was a main sequence star that was not a whole lot different than Earth’s sun, Sol. Because of its distance, it was not considered part of the stellar neighborhood, which was exactly what Hokusai was looking for. Her initial desire was to be alone, at least for the next decade or so. Fortunately, the trip from Varkas Reflex was a lot shorter for her than it would be for most people. It was she who developed a new way of traveling the stars called the reframe engine. The fact that the star was seventy-one light years away meant that it would take seventy-one years to get there. Or rather, that was what everyone outside of the ship felt. Just being inside the ship made time move slower, so that seven decades equaled only thirty-seven days, from a traveler’s perspective. The beauty of the reframe engine, however, made it so that this relative time frame actually equaled the true passage of time. Thirty-seven days for her was thirty-seven days for everyone else, yet she was able to travel seventy-one light years. It was the only form of faster-than-light travel that anyone had come up with on a technological level. Certain time travelers could move much faster, but she hadn’t figured out how to replicate these abilities, and maybe never would.
When people first became virtually immortal, they were able to hold onto their old values and ways of doing things. After all, knowing that they might never die did not yet change how little life they had lived so far. After ten years, the people who had been married for fifty years simply became people who had been married for sixty. But then seventy rolled around, and then eighty, and now things were starting to feel different. By the time the first couple celebrated their hundredth anniversary, the institution was transforming; not into something better or worse, but altered. Of course, individualism being what it was, different couples had different plans. Plenty of married folks were these days enjoying their fourth century of being together, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still, there were others who placed limits on their relationships. Instead of letting death do them part, they were agreeing to stay together for a few decades, before moving on to other people. Others kept things up in the air, without worrying too much about what they would do in the future.
Where divorce once marked the end of a bad relationship, it now only signified a transitional period, and former partners often maintained healthy relationships with each other. Some even found themselves separated by light years, and didn’t maintain contact at all, but still remembered their time together fondly. Hokusai and Loa’s relationship was on the complex side of this. They frequently married, separated, divorced, and spent time far away from each other. They always ended up back together eventually, and not because they realized they made a mistake, but because they decided to not be apart anymore, and they were going to stay that way until something changed their minds. Hokusai didn’t ask Loa to come with her to Ileaby, and Loa didn’t offer to. They didn’t divorce either. They were just going to be apart for now, and probably meet back up somewhere else later. They never made any plans, and it wasn’t like they had to. Not everyone in the entire stellar neighborhood was afforded a quantum messenger to allow FTL communication, but Hokusai didn’t need to request one, because she could build one herself in her sleep. So she was able to talk with her wife on a regular basis, though not as frequently as she spoke with her student.
Pribadium Delgado knew a lot about how dimensional gravity worked, but she didn’t know everything, so Hokusai continued to train and mentor her for the last four years. There was even more that they both needed to learn about it. While she was the foremost expert, she had not yet explored all possibilities either. At the moment, they were telepresenting with each other using time technology. This wasn’t just a holographic communication device, like something out of an early Star Wars movie. This was more like a force bond, like something out of a later Star Wars movie. Their two labs—Pribadium’s on Varkas, and Hokusai’s on the Greta Thunberg—were merged together. They could move freely between each other’s areas, but they restricted this level of interaction, since the connection was tenuous. A choosing one named Kayetan Glaston was capable of doing this sort of thing on his own, but Pribadium figured out how to do it herself. Hokusai was so proud of her.
Partially inspired by the speech Gangsta Dazzlemist gave years ago when he first exiled Hokusai, the two of them were presently working on a new technology called the equilibrium drive. This wouldn’t simply be lower or higher gravity, but controlled gravitational force on the molecular level. When you drop an object on a world, it will fall towards the center of that world. Of course, the surface will get in the way, and not let it reach that center, but that’s essentially what gravity is doing. It doesn’t matter how high or low the gravity is, that object will always eventually fall to the ground, unless hindered by an external force, like a hand catching it. Even the artificial lower gravity that Hokusai invented in the first place retains this principle. She can make it easier for a vessel to escape its world’s gravity well, and rise up, but she can’t make the gravity itself propel the ship away. It still requires some kind of fuel. In an attempt at undoing this natural deficiency, the two scientists came up with something new. They all but abandoned the original idea in favor of another. Surely it would come in handy, but it wasn’t the most interesting application. What if an object dropped on a world neither fell to the surface, nor rose up from it, but instead, stayed exactly where it was?
With an equilibrium drive in play, the only objects capable of motion would be the ones in possession of self-propulsion. The most obvious example of this would be a person. Someone standing inside the chamber could climb up the invisible gravity lattice, and stand high above the floor. They would be able to get themselves down, but gravity would never do the work for them. And if they were holding, say, an average plastic basket, only they would be able to make that basket move. If they were to let go, it would just wait for them right in that spot, as if sitting on top a table. Of course, the ultimate goal of this tech would be to imbue individual objects with this equilibrium. The chamber might be a lot of fun, but if you want to take advantage of it, you have to stay inside, and that doesn’t really help if you want to use it in your everyday life. And they couldn’t accomplish this effect simply by turning the whole world into an equilibrium chamber, because not everything should be in equilibrium all the time like urine or a swimming pool. In fact, there seemed to be some issues with prolonged exposure.
“How are you feeling?” Hokusai asked.
“I feel like a puppet now.” Osiris Hadad, whose memories Hokusai had inadvertently erased, never lost his compassion. Though he could remember nothing about his life before the incident, he was still the same person he always was. People explained to him what Hokusai had done, but he was not angry with her about it. He too maintained communication with her across the light years, and they formed a true friendship. He still loved science, and wanted to pursue it, so he had to start from scratch, and get himself educated all over again. In the meantime, he loved helping her and Pribadium with their own research. He was in their equilibrium chamber prototype, so they could observe the long-term effects of the machine.
“It feels like there are strings on your shoulders?” Pribadium asked.
“No, it’s more like there are strings on ever pore of my skin, and they’re each pulling me in different directions.”
The other two were horrified.
“It’s not painful,” he went on. “The imaginary strings aren’t trying to tear me apart. I just don’t feel like I’m standing on anything, which I’m not. So to keep me from falling towards any surface, I guess they have to pull at me with equal force?”
“Yes, that’s how it works,” Hokusai said. “You say that’s uncomfortable?”
“It is now,” Osiris confirmed. “It’s becoming worse as time progresses. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s changing. I think my body just gets tired of it.”
“The body gets tired of zero-g as well,” Pribadium noted. “Do you feel as if you’re exerting energy, like your body has to be the one in charge of holding in place?”
“I guess,” he said. “I mean, I know the chamber is doing all the work, and my body knows that too. It’s like I’m hanging here, waiting for you to shut off the machine, and if you do that, I have to be ready. I’m braced. That’s the word. I’m braced, in case this doesn’t last very long.”
“No species evolved to exist in true equilibrium,” Hokusai pointed out. “I mean, even zero gravity has its precedent on Earth. We evolved to handle the sensation of falling, and to float in water, but this is something entirely new; something that no one in the entire stellar neighborhood—maybe even the universe—has experienced before. Your body doesn’t know what to do with it.”
“Shoes.” Katica Petrić had walked into the lab.
“Dr. Petrić,” Pribadium said. “This is unexpected. It’s not what it looks like.”
“It looks like you’re using Glaston’s powers as a loophole to allow Hokusai to break her exile,” Katica explained.
“Are you going to tell the council?” Pribadium asked.
Katica laughed. “I’ve known you were doing this the whole time. Gangsta’s known for over a year. What he did, when he exiled you, was more to protect the people of Varkas Reflex from learning the truth about you. As long as you stayed secret, he had no problem with you continuing your work together. He’s actually counting on it. Every breakthrough you have helps the world, quite literally.” She looked up at Osiris, hanging in the equilibrium chamber. “You, however, I did not know about. I should have kept a better eye on you. I thought you were consumed by your studies.”
“Muscle memory,” he replied. “I may not remember how much proverbial baking soda to mix with the proverbial vinegar, but my hands still know how to pour the beakers. My studies go fast; I got time.”
“I see that,” Katica said. She wasn’t happy with his reasoning. She never agreed with the exile ruling, but she still felt protective over her former colleague, and knew that, because of his very condition, he could never truly understand what Hokusai had done to him; what he had lost.
“You said something about shoes?” Pribadium reminded her.
“Yes,” Katica began. “Like when we invented the clothes that lowered gravity for only the user, what you need are shoes that simulate slightly higher gravity. He needs to feel like he’s standing on a surface, even when he’s up there. He can keep climbing, or climb back down, but his inner ear needs to recognize what down even is.”
Hokusai was nodding her head. “Yeah, I think you’re right. We don’t need to make them 1-g, but they need to be higher, or you’ll always feel like you’re stuck in amber.”
“Does this matter?” Osiris questioned. “I thought we wanted to create micro-equilibrium drives, so I can hang my hat in the middle of the air while I’m putting on my coat, or accidentally bump into the coffee table, and not shatter my glass of water.”
“That is what we’re going for,” Prbadium agreed, “but we have to study its effect on the conscious body. If we don’t do it now, people are going to wonder about it later.”
“About a year after I first left Earth in 2017,” Hokusai began, “there were no significant studies on the health benefits of flossing.”
“What’s flossing?” Osiris asked.
“Exactly. Floss was this fine string you stuck in your teeth to clean them.”
“Why didn’t they just crack sonic-cleaning pellets?” he asked.
She chuckled. “They didn’t exist yet. For years, parents would scold their children for not flossing their teeth. Then scientists finally asked, hey wait, does flossing actually work anyway? Turns out, not really. They were better off using regular brushes, and brushing more thoroughly. The people who sold floss told people they needed to buy it, and no one questioned this...until some people did, and the truth came out. Science takes time, and it’s our job as scientists to let that time pass while we do our due diligence. I made a grave error when I erased your memory. I asked a couple questions, then I pushed a button. I should have been more patient, and more considerate. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“Then maybe he, in particular, shouldn’t be your guinea pig,” Katica figured.
“No, it’s fine,” Osiris assured her. “I want to do this. I should be contributing to science in my own way at this point. Until I get my knowledge back, this is how I can help.”
Katica nodded her head in understanding. “I hope you know what you’re doing, because you don’t know much beyond that. Anyway, I didn’t come in here to discuss this technology with you. Madam Gimura, your exile has been lifted, if only temporarily. Your planet needs you. I suppose you can just...come with me.”

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