Saturday, September 26, 2020

Glisnia: The Shortlist (Part IV)

Holly Blue stood there reverently and quietly. She didn’t look surprised or pleased at Hogarth’s offer to help her find her son. Neither did she look perturbed that this might have all been a ploy, and Hogarth wouldn’t actually be able to deliver. “He’s in another universe. How do you have access to that?”
Hogarth gestured towards Crimson, who was still inhabiting Hogarth’s original body. “My name is Crimson Clover. I borrowed this substrate so I could experiment with Madam Pudeyonavic’s time power. I’ve been traveling the bulkverse, visiting strange new worlds, meeting interesting people. Hogarth, I didn’t get a chance to tell you any of that yet. How did you know?”
“I took a guess,” Hogarth replied. “I’ve been traveling through time in this universe, and the people I meet either know about my past, or a believable future. No one has so much as hinted that an entity going by the name of Crimson Clover has been traipsing around the timeline with my face. The idea that you just jumped to other universes was a far more logical answer to where you were while you were gone for the last several centuries.”
“Are you bothered by this truth?” Crimson questioned.
“I only hope,” Hogarth began, “in all that time, you managed to meet someone by the name of Declan Aberdeen.”
“He might be going by something else,” Holly Blue said. “He hadn’t settled on one yet, but he was thinking—”
“He goes by Declan,” Crimson interrupted. “He didn’t use a codename; none of us did, though of course, everyone thought mine was made up. Since we were all from different universes, it didn’t seem necessary to hide our identities.”
“You worked with him?” Holly Blue asked.
“Yeah, we had a whole team; me, Declan, the Fruits...”
“How did you leave him? Was he okay?”
“He was...all right when I left,” Crimson answered.
“Why did you leave at all?” Hogarth asked.
“It was time,” Crimson said. “We accomplished what we set out to do, and once it was over, we went our separate ways.”
“Did he go to another world,” Holly Blue started to ask, “or do you know where I can find him that wouldn’t disrupt the timeline?” Traveling to other universes is dangerous, and not just due to physical limitations. Each universe operates on an entirely independent timeline, and is meant to remain as such. Any external force threatens that more than internal time travel ever could.
“I can take you to him,” Crimson promises with a nod.
“But I have to build you something first,” Holly Blue acknowledged.
“No,” Hogarth insisted. “If you want, we’ll skip that part.”
“That’s not what we agreed upon,” Crimson reminded her.
“I’ll find another way,” Hogarth told him. Holly Blue wasn’t the only way to invent a special time-siphoning device; she was just the easiest.
“You guarantee my safety throughout the process,” Holly Blue began, “so I don’t die before I find Declan, then I’ll build whatever you want.”
“You don’t wanna know what it is first?” Hogarth wondered.
“I trust that you’re not trying to get me to make you a bomb, or something,” Holly Blue said.
“Definitely not,” Hogarth, “though it does technically involve blowing up.”
“This ability isn’t about blowing up,” Crimson started to say. “You only perceived it that way, because you didn’t understand it. You were moving so fast that it felt like an explosion, but as I’m sure you saw, you can do at a slower pace. Someone I knew long ago called it molecular transportation, but there might be a better term for it.”
“You want me to adapt that power into something that anyone can use?” Holly Blue guessed.
“Sort of,” Hogarth said. “We want to siphon resources from distant star systems, without crossing the distance, or even teleporting to their locations. We just want the stuff.”
“Have you considered the ethical ramifications of such an endeavor?” Holly Blue pressed.
“Perhaps not all of them,” Crimson replied. “There’s absolutely the possibility of abuse, but we plan on sticking to the stellar neighborhood, and maybe a little beyond that. We’ll only take from uninhabited worlds.”
“How will you know which worlds are inhabited, and which aren’t?”
“Data from Project Stargate and Project Topdown,” Hogarth answered.
She nodded. These were semi-secret projects that involved sending automated ships across the galaxy. The idea was to explore these other systems, and catalog anything found in them, including life. Not every vonearthan was aware of it in Hogarth’s time, but this was the year 2400. Things might have changed since then. The ships were traveling near the speed of light, so at this point in history, they had already traveled a hundred and fifty light years from their starting location at the Gatewood Collective.
Holly Blue needed more information. “So, you wanna pick a target within a hundred light years, and take whatever you need from it; hydrogen, metals, whatever?”
She looked around the room, but more in a general sense. “You don’t have everything you need here, wherever this is?”
“We have exhausted our resources,” Crimson explained. “We are trying to build something truly gargantuan, and no star system in the galaxy alone possesses enough material to accomplish it.”
“What is it?”
And so they went about explaining the matrioshka brain, and the matrioshka body. It was an absurdly ludicrous goal, but if they could accumulate the materials they needed, there was no reason not to. It would be possible to see the matrioshka body from light years away, including Earth. People could look into the sky, and see the largest structure that vonearthans ever created. It would be a magnificent sight once it was finished, and everyone who looked upon it would know how powerful they were. Should an alien race gaze into the void, in the right direction, they too would see it, and both know that aliens existed, and would prove to be a formidable force. This would either scare them into staying away, or excite them with the prospect of new friends who might share knowledge with them. It was a better form of communication than any golden disc or degraded radio signal could provide. It also followed the rule of cool, and maybe that was enough.
“A time-siphon,” Holly Blue echoed. “I don’t see why not. I only have one condition, besides your promise to get me to Declan.”
“Naturally,” Crimson agreed preemptively.
“It can only be operated by The Shortlist.”
“What’s that?” Crimson asked.
Hogarth blended a scoff with a chuckle; not in disgust, but more out of surprise. The Shortlist was a self-serving and pretentious—obviously quite small—group of people who partially declared control over what people in this galaxy were allowed to have, and when they were allowed to have it. A day might come when the general public would be informed of the truth about time travelers, but if that timeline ever came to pass, it would be at the pleasure of the Shortlist. Because of time travel itself, no one really knew who came up with the idea of the list, but membership did not require consent. If you were chosen to be on it, you were on it, whether you wanted to be or not. Being short, it was rather easy to list every member. Hogarth Pudeyonavic, Hokusai Gimura, Holly Blue, Weaver, Brooke Prieto, Sharice Prieto, Kestral McBride, Ishida Caldwell, Pribadium Delgado, Leona Matic, and Ramses Abdulrashid made up the entire ensemble. Eleven people. Eleven people either decided they were in charge of the scattered trillions, or were told they were responsible for them, in some capacity.
Being smart or important was not enough to qualify someone to be on the list. Plenty of very important people were off it, like Meliora Rutherford, and Étude Einarsson. They also had to be a scientist or an engineer, and have become that way predominantly because of their exposure to time travel. Not everyone wanted to be on it, or actively contributed to its efforts. Weaver was just an alternate version of Holly Blue, and following a few adventures upon first arriving, kept herself pretty well out of this timeline’s business. Sharice was an artificial intelligence. Though that was no reason to keep her from the list, she actively protested her inclusion, for her own reasons. Ramses was the only man, which was an interesting fact. Leona was the least knowledgeable out of all of them, and her lack of credentials should have barred her from membership, but she was the special pet of the powers that be, so they kind of needed to be able to trust her in an emergency. Her husband, Mateo was an honorary member, who needed to be available for the same reasons.
There were probably some people who deserved to be on the list, if it deserved to exist in the first place. The doctors, Sarka and Hammer were more than qualified in their own field. Trinity and Ellie Underhill were never formally trained in the sciences, though they were extremely intelligent, and experienced, and some noticed evidence that the latter knew a whole lot more than she let on. Thor Thompson, Saxon Parker, and Mirage probably had a place somewhere too. So it wasn’t a perfect list, but it was the one they had, and few would argue with it. Members weren’t chosen because they had the potential for a technological breakthrough that could either destroy or save the universe, but because they actually had created something which fit that criteria. The justification for the group was that it was less about wielding power, and more about keeping each other accountable for the power they found themselves in possession of anyway.
Still, Holly Blue mandating a Shortlist limitation was a big deal, and something which most of the members were required to sign off on. Some wanted a decision like this to be unanimous, but gathering all these people in one place at the same point in time was difficult at best. If they wanted to hold a legitimate vote, they would need help from a couple people who weren’t even on the list, and Holly Blue had to be sure she wanted to go down this road. “Yes,” she confirmed confidently. “Call a vote.”
“Very well,” Hogarth said. “I’ll see who we can get for a quorum.”

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