Saturday, July 11, 2020

Varkas Reflex: Vacuum (Part VI)

Hokusai didn’t know what was wrong with this planet, or why it suddenly needed her help. She made a point of staying out of its business, requesting that Pribadium not bother her with such matters while they were working, or visiting. She was worried, though, that someone had decided to use her technology for evil, or maybe even just something misguided, which could have similar negative results. Katica led her down the hallway, out of the lab, across the way, and into the Capitol building.
Councilor Gangsta Dazzlemist was waiting for them in the lobby. “You were right. She got here fast.”
“May I ask what this is about?” Hokusai looked around at the walls, as if this were a trick, and the building would collapse in on her like something out of a space war movie.
Gangsta breathed in deeply, and Hokusai wasn’t sure what he did with the air, because it never seemed to come out. “I’m retiring from public service.”
“Congratulations,” Hokusai said to him sincerely.
“We need a replacement,” he went on.
Hokusai nodded. Now, she was literally a genius, and her intellect wasn’t limited to knowing how to calculate the Roche limit, or observational time through relativistic speeds. She picked up on social cues much easier than the average person, allowing her to tease out an individual’s subtext, and know when someone was lying. So when Gangsta told her they were looking for a replacement, she immediately understood he wasn’t just posting an update about his life in person. His microexpressions, coupled with the fact that they had lifted her exile, meant that she was here for a very specific reason. They were asking her to be that replacement. She didn’t know why, though. “I don’t know how I could do it. I live twenty-two parsecs away.”
He pointed at her with an upwards-facing palm. “Obviously not.”
“It’s this whole thing.”
“I understand,” Gangsta began, “that you did not simply stumble upon dimensional gravity, Madam Gimura. No one has ever done anything like it. They weren’t even looking for it. I don’t know what you are, and I don’t know how many others there are like you. I don’t really care. You’ve given us so much, and we gladly accept it. But please, do not think me a fool. I know you’re more than just a scientist, and that your expertise goes far beyond artificial gravity. I am in so much awe of you, and I will not tell anyone what little I know of your secret, including your ability to teleport between star systems.”
“It means a lot, hearing you say that,” she said, again, sincerely.
“You are not only my choice to replace me. You’re almost everybody’s.”
“How’s that?”
“Someone leaked your trial,” Katica explained. “They know who you are, and what you’ve done for them.” Leak was a strong word. The governments decided a long time ago that court cases should no longer have audiences. They were still mostly public record—unless the transparency endangered lives—but without the spectacle, those involved generally found the process to be fairer. Still, the information didn’t need to be leaked. It just required someone with the motives to raise their voice loud enough for people to hear it. Combined with artificial intelligences, there were now tens of billions of “people” in the stellar neighborhood. So being a loud voice was pretty hard. A public figure with as many fans as the most famous on Earth in 2016 would be barely considered a local celebrity by today’s standards. Any rando capable of getting a whole planet—even a low-populated colony—to listen was impressive.
“They’re asking me to become a councilor?” Hokusai questioned. “Because they think it was unfair that I was exiled? That’s a bit of a stretch.”
“It’s not because you were exiled, though that does help your popularity factor,” Katica said. “It’s because they know what you did for them decades ago. They know you’re responsible for artificial gravity, and for repairing our habitats before the colony vessels arrived.”
“That wasn’t me; that was my friends, Leona and Eight Point Seven.” The first human to set foot on Varkas Reflex was Leona Matic, when a mysterious quantum force commandeered her ship, and brought her here to fix some problems with the nanofactory.
“Close enough,” Katica contended. “You’re a hero, regardless, and the people want you to lead them.”
“That’s not really my thing.”
“We know,” Gangsta said. “We think it should be, though.”
She sighed. “I don’t even like how you run the government. Don’t get me wrong, to each their own, and I’ll gladly come back to live here, but it’s too informal. I appreciate that you wanna be laid back, but you could be so much more, if you were more motivated.” She repeated her point with an exaggerated accent that a high school math teacher she once had used to get his students interested in algebra, “motivaaation. Motivaaaaation.”
Gangsta smiled. “That’s what we’re counting on. The people aren’t looking for a new councilor. They want you to be Superintendent.”
Hokusai caught half of a chuckle before it escaped her mouth, but couldn’t stop the first half. The Superintendent was essentially the term choosing ones used to describe God. It was more metaphysically complicated than that, which was exactly why the word god was avoided in the first place. In this case, Gangsta was referring to a governmental position for someone who possessed questionable decision-making scope. A superintendent wasn’t responsible for running the state, but for managing the people who were responsible for running the state. They were staff managers, human resource representatives, the occasional conflict mediators. On the surface, they appeared to have the most power of all, since they were in charge of everyone, but they still answered to the people, and they couldn’t just fire and hire other leaders willy nilly. They had to remain reasonable, and accountable. Every colony but Varkas Reflex started out with a superintendent, but most stepped down after two or three full election cycles, because they were useful when starting out, but usually obsolete once the engine got going. Only Earth held onto their superintendent, because theirs was the highest populated world. It was just funny that Varkas was finally deciding to get on board with convention.
“You’ve been in your head for a good long while,” Katica pointed out. “Do you have a response?”
“My initial thought is no,” Hokusai answered.
“That makes sense,” Katica said. “It sounds like you. But you’re the one who hates how they run the government. What better way to fix it than to be the one in charge of coming up with a new one?”
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Hokusai admitted. “While I believe what you’re doing now is not sustainable, I know that you don’t want to convert to a full mediatorial tetracameral legislature, and that’s the only one I know, because it’s the most common.” This type of government was composed of four parts. The population representative congress was there to speak for the needs of the civilians. They expressed their grievances to the two delegators, who met with separate advisory boards in order to come to decisions. Much like separate arbitration panels in the adjudicative system, the idea was, if both delegation boards came to the same conclusion, without talking to each other about it, it was probably the right one. The delegators then delegated the implementation of their decision to whichever administrators were in charge of whatever this change impacted.
This was all really complicated by design. Complexity often equaled more exploitable weakness, but also greater overall resilience. Maybe you could bribe one delegator to do what you wanted, but the other? Even if you did that, their irrational behavior would alert the mediator between them, so you would have to convince them to fall in line as well. Even so, the advisors would question why the delegators and mediator weren’t heeding their advice. The administrators would question their orders, and finally, the people would rise up against the injustice. And those people had the power to make swift changes to leadership personnel. It was practically impossible in Hokusai’s time to impeach a president, let alone remove them from office. Here, not so hard. If they wanted someone gone, they were gone. No one was entitled to power, and no one was entitled to maintain that power, once it was granted. These changes were positively unavoidable in modern times. No matter how good a leader was, there was too much risk of their control growing, well...out of control, over time. When accounting for immortality, this control could theoretically last for literal aeons, and that was probably not a good idea.
“You’re in your head again,” Katica warned her.
“Sorry, I was just going over what I would do if I were superintendent, and it always ends in disaster.”
“I don’t believe that,” Gangsta argued. “We’re not asking you to have all the answers today. Nor are the citizens. We just want you to get the process started. We all have immense faith in your ability to be fair, thoughtful, and sensitive to this planet’s unique needs.”
“Of course you may decline,” Katica started to add. “I urge you to give it some thought, though. Remember what happened the last time you made a rash decision, without knowing the consequences.”
Hokusai had never asked Katica to take responsibility for her own involvement in the memory wipe that was accidental from Hokusai’s side, but not from Katica’s. She glared at her now to remind her of this truth telepathically.
“Someone has to take care of us, and I can’t be the one to do it. Nature abhors a vacuum,” Gangsta quipped.
“Why do people always say that?” Hokusai questioned. “Nature loves a vacuum. It’s called entropy, and it’s kind of where everything in the universe is trying to get to.”
“Just think about it,” Katica requested. “In the meantime, you’re expected on the balcony.”
“The balcony?” Hokusai didn’t know what she was talking about. “Who’s on the balcony?”
“No one,” she answered. “You’re the one who’s expected. They’re waiting for your fence speech.”
“What the hell is a fence speech?” Hokusai asked.
“You’re on the fence, right?” Gangsta asked her.
Not really, but Katica was right that she should at least think about it. “You want me to go out there, and tell people I might consider maybe starting to almost kind of theoretically think about one day possibly entertaining the idea of hypothetically accepting a potential offer to perhaps, perchance, try to run for Superintendent?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but yeah, I guess,” Gangsta confirmed. “As I said, they’re expecting you.”
“You shouldn’t have told them I would be here.”
“We didn’t,” Katica said. “Like we’ve been trying to explain, it wasn’t our idea; it was theirs. They have been waiting for you.”
Demanding, even,” Gangsta corrected.
Hokusai massaged the bridge of her nose. “They’re expecting a...fence speech?”
“Yes,” Katica confirmed. “They are not anticipating that you will announce your intention to run today. If you go out there, and humor them for five minutes, they’ll finally go away, and move on with their lives. They will want you to make a final decision within the week, though, so keep that in mind.”
“Fine. I’ll go talk to them, but I promise nothing.”
“That’s all we ask,” Katica said gratefully.
“If it’s a five-minute speech, I will need ten minutes to write it.”
“That’s okay,” Gangsta said with glee. “I’ll go back out and stall them with another attempt at playing the gravity organ.”
By the time Hokusai finished delivering her fifteen-minute long speech, she had already decided to run. She did so unopposed, and obviously won.

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