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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Glisnia: Forerunners (Part I)

Hogarth Pudeyonvic and Hilde Unger were back on Tribulation Island, awaiting some good news. It was time to go back home; or at least the last place they were living before their friend’s memorial services. They were pretty sure they would be able to get back to the Milky Way galaxy, but it might be a little more difficult to reach Glisnia specifically. The intergalactic transporter there was destroyed, and though they asked its mysterious engineer to repair it for them, she seemed hesitant to do that. It wasn’t that she thought it would be bad to help them, but she was very, very old, and none of this mattered to her. Anyway, it wasn’t absolutely vital. They really just needed to get close, and then they could travel the rest of the way by ship.
“Okay, I found it,” the technician said.
“What took so long?” Hilde asked. “That’s not a criticism, I’m just curious.”
“I had to change...a parameter.”
“What does that mean?” Hilde pressed.
“You had to adjust the fourth dimension, didn’t you?” Hogarth guessed.
“That’s right,” the technician confirmed. “I can send you to the recent past, to just before the Nexus replica explodes...or the far future, to just after it comes back online.”
“How far in the future?”
“The year 2400,” the tech replied.
“Why is that?” Hilde asked her wife. “Why that year?”
“That must be when The Engineer finally gets around to fixing the replica.”
“Well, we don’t want that,” Hilde decided. “We’ll go to the past instead.”
“We shouldn’t do that,” Hogarth argued. “We don’t wanna run into our Past!Selves, or do anything else that could disrupt the timeline.”
“What are you talking about?” Hilde questioned. “We’re time travelers, we do that all the time.”
“That’s true,” the tech agreed. “You’re time travelers. Twenty-two sixty-two, twenty-four hundred, what’s the difference? You may as well see the future. You’ve already done that once, right? Aren’t you from 2017?”
“Twenty-sixteen,” Hogarth corrected. “He’s right. We don’t even have to go to Glisnia. We could go to Earth, or Gatewood, or back to that place where we met the Engineer.”
“Oh no, I can’t get you there,” the tech said.
“Didn’t you modify the machine, as I instructed?” Hogarth wondered.
“I did not receive authorization to do that from Transportation Administrator Moss. She says we’re not ready to explore other universes. If you want to return, you’ll need to go to Glisnia.”
“I really do want that,” Hogarth said to her wife. She didn’t need her permission, per se, but every decision they made needed to be unanimous. Their relationship didn’t work when one of them resented the other.
Hilde shrugged. “Glisnia 2400; sounds like a TV show spinoff. Let’s do it.”
The tech nodded, and started pressing the appropriate buttons as the two travelers left the control room, and stepped into the transportation chamber. “Thirty second warning,” he announced, as per protocol.
“Thanks for helping us with this,” Hilde said.
Orange light rained down from the ceiling, and overwhelmed their senses, but then a problem arose. Hogarth thought she had gotten over this, but apparently it was still in her. Back in 2016, she built a machine she hoped would transport her to another world. It went wrong, and ended up sending the entire town with her. Though this would turn out to be for the best, it didn’t not come without its problems. For one, Hogarth began to suffer a time affliction. It wasn’t a pattern, like the salmon had, or a power, like the choosing ones. It was very difficult to control, very unpleasant, and dangerous. The last time it happened to her, she thought would be the last ever, but it was starting again. She was about to explode herself, and be sent to some random point in spacetime. “Wait! Abort!” It was too late. The explosion swelled from inside her just as the machine was reaching its final phase. Both of these energies released simultaneously.
Time slowed down. Hogarth couldn’t so much as blink her eyes, but she could still see. Her explosive power, and the Nexus replica lights, were crashing into each other, and igniting. She could feel her atoms doing the same, and being ripped apart from each other. She always knew this was what was happening, but it was the first time she could actually perceive it. She didn’t detect any pain, but it was still horrific. Then the scene changed, and she could see more than she ever thought possible. The entire network of Nexus replicas, and original Nexa was before her. She couldn’t reach any of them, but she could see them. She could watch them. She could witness them exploding all around her. First, the one on Durus, and then Earth, and then the Metanexus, which served as an entry point to the multiverse. Be it the past, or the future, they were all falling apart, and now she knew why. She was the one responsible for it. She had destroyed them all.
Time restarted, the network faded away, and her molecules reconstituted themselves. She fell to her back, and just lied there a moment. She still wasn’t in any pain, but she couldn’t bring herself to sit up, and get a look around. She and her friends had been trying to figure out who was running around, destroying Nexus replicas. Now they knew it was her. It was all her fault. While she was trying to work up the courage to get to her feet, and make sure Hilde was okay, Hilde did it first.
“Are you okay? Can you move?”
“I’m all right,” Hogarth responded. “You?”
“I’m okay,” Hilde said. “What happened?”
“That’s what I would like to know.” The tech was stepping into the chamber, and approaching them. “The controls are dead. I don’t know where or when we are. It’s not Darius, though, I’ll tell ya that much. That room is of a slightly different design.”
Hogarth finally got to her feet, and looked around. The place looked all right, so if the controls were off, it was probably a software issue, and hopefully easy to fix. “In that case, there’s only one way to find out.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Hilde asked again.
“I’m fine. I’ll explain later, but I need to know where the machine sent us first.”
“And why I came with,” the tech added.
“No, I know the answer to that,” Hogarth told him. “I screwed up.” She led them down the hallway, and towards the exit. There were almost no windows in this building. Glass was both reflective, and transparent, so it was counterproductive to the machine’s need to contain temporal energy. The window between the control room and the transportation chamber came from an unknown source. Whenever a new replica was built, the directions instructed the maker to leave that space blank. At some point by the end of the project, the window fabricated itself, out of an unknown material. It should have protected the tech, but Hogarth’s explosion must have interfered with its integrity.
Before she could open the door to the outside, it opened for her. A mech was on the other side, sporting a disconcerting smile. “The Forerunners. You have returned.” This wasn’t as glorious of a title as it sounded like. A forerunner was a type of ship that flew ahead of a new colony’s first colony vessel. If something ended up having gone wrong with the automated factory ships that were sent even earlier, they would be able to fix everything before the colonists arrived. When Hogarth and Hilde appeared in the Gliese 832 star system, they became the first vonearthans to set foot on Glisnia, which was its only terrestrial planet. This made them notable figures in Glisnian history, of course, but there was nothing else special about them, and they didn’t do anything. The only nanofactory ships that ever malfunctioned did so over a planet called Varkas Reflex. So Hogarth and Hilde used their time alone to build their own little home on the surface. It also gave them time to explore a little, and discover the Nexus replica in the first place, which they had tried to keep a secret. Apparently that plan failed.
“We have,” Hilde said. “Report.”
“It is the year 2400,” the mech began. “The Matrioshka brain is complete, and we’re now working on the body.”
“The whatnow?” Hogarth questioned. “I don’t follow.”
The mech now tried to show them a smirk, but it was even more unsettling than the first facial expression. Artificial intelligences were perfectly capable of understanding both why smiles were socially beneficent, and even also how to make one. Unfortunately, except for the ones that were built with synthetic skin—and, more importantly, lips—the actual execution of a smile was generally extremely difficult.  Their mouths just didn’t look quite right. Eye smiles were generally pretty good, though, so people were taught to focus on them instead. He bowed graciously, and stepped aside, so they could walk through the door.
Here there was a window, showing that they were no longer on Glisnia; probably because it didn’t exist anymore. It was taken apart completely, and integrated into a megastructure surrounding the star. A matrioshka brain was always on the schedule for the future of the star system. They only landed on the planet to get started, but the world wasn’t going to last forever. It was far more valuable in its new form. A dyson shell was constructed around Gliese 832. Most of the energy was absorbed by these artificial structures, and used to power their systems. The rest was bled off into space in the form of infrared light, and a not insignificant amount of visible light. They weren’t opaque spheres like old fiction liked to portray them as. That didn’t mean all the energy that escaped was completely useless. All they needed to do was build another shell around the first one. And then another, and another, and another. They built as many as they needed to maximize the energy input; until building more would be more trouble than it was worth.
They were clearly finished with this process, having been working on it for the last a hundred and fifty years. That was incredibly impressive, even for a group of artificials whose sole responsibility was to make it happen. “Was there enough raw material in this system to do this?” Hogarth asked.
“For the brain, yes,” the mech replied. “We sent refinery ships to nearby systems to get material for the rest.”
“Moar!” the tech exclaimed jokingly. They needed to learn his name.
“Indeed,” the mech agreed. Surely he had a name as well. “We do need even more, and we have to go farther out. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?” Hogarth asked. “What can I do?”
The mech gestured towards the door behind them. “You obviously have a way to travel the stars. We need you to replicate that for us, but on a much, much larger scale.”
She didn’t do that. She didn’t build the Nexa, or develop any other form of faster-than-light travel. That was Hokusai’s deal. She was more about parallel dimensions, and artificial gravity. Still, it should be possible. But why didn’t they figure it out themselves? “Why didn’t you just figure it out yourselves, while I was gone? Surely, with all this time...”
“We’ve been locked out of this structure since we discovered it. A human woman named Azure Vose told us to—and I quote—am-scray.”
“That sounds like her,” Hilde said.
“We just have one condition,” the mech said in a worried voice. “The other mechs won’t let you be involved unless you become one of us.”
“I have to upgrade?” Hogarth asked, though she knew that was what he meant.
“Humans aren’t allowed here. It’s been declared. Upgrading isn’t enough, though. You have to upload.”
This was no huge surprise. Though humans weren’t illegal in the beginning, it was probably always going to end up like this. There were hundreds of billions of stars in this galaxy alone. No one was going to get pissy about one of them being set aside for a particular group of vonearthans. Hell, there could be hundreds, thousands, millions, even billions of them in the future. There were plenty of resources for everyone. That wasn’t really the problem, though. Hogarth wasn’t sure she wanted to become completely inorganic. She grew up in a time before that was possible, and had been so busy as a traveler, that she had never given it any real thought. He was right, however, that she didn’t belong here in her current form. This planet was not meant for her, as it was designed for artificial entities. Perhaps it was time—not to change this fact—but to change herself. The only question was whether Hilde could ever feel the same way. Would she be willing to upgrade as well?
“I’m in,” Hilde said, shockingly. “I wanna see what this matrioshka body ends up looking like, and if nothing else, I need to survive long enough for you to finish it. Let’s do it.”
That was easy.

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