Saturday, October 3, 2020

Glisnia: Role Call (Part V)

Not everyone had some way to contact them through time, but for anyone who didn’t, they could be reached second-hand by contacting someone who did have a means of cross-temporal communication. Holly Blue had a long-ass phone number, while Dr. Mallory Hammer needed to be more accessible to her patients, so her number was easier to remember. If Hogarth and Holly Blue wanted to get a hold of someone called The Porter, there was a very delicate routine that they needed to get through. It wasn’t dignified, and could be a little embarrassing, but it was certainly easier than doing all the work of finding The Shortlist themselves. Hogarth started to stumble around the room, occasionally stopping to recite the magic words, “I am the Keymaster, are you the Gatekeeper?” Once she had made a right fool of herself, she approached a door, and recited the line one last time. Then she opened the door.
“Are you the Keymaster?” Porter asked. “I am the Gatekeeper.”
“Thank you for coming,” Hogarth said to her.
“What can I get ya?” Porter offered.
Hogarth lifted her hand, and held it there a moment. Realizing what she was asking for, Holly Blue pulled a card out of her pocket, and handed it to her. Hogarth then relayed it to Porter. “This is a list of everyone we need for a meeting. Well, we don’t need everyone on it, but we do need at least seven, including the two that are already here. You think you would be able to retrieve five out of the nine remaining?”
“Six,” Holly Blue corrected.
“Oh, right. I forgot about that.” Hogarth took the card back real quick, and scribbled one more name on it. “We need a mediator too. I always forget about that part.” A mediator was required for every meeting, whether there was a full roster or not. This guide could not be a member of the Shortlist themselves, and they were not allowed to have overseen a meeting beforehand. It was a one time deal. While this might have sounded random and irrational, members agreed they could lose perspective if they kept all outside voices on the outside. Ethesh, Lenkida, and Crimson were disqualified from serving as mediator, because it would be a conflict of interest in this case, so Porter needed to find someone else. Hogarth chose someone she knew would be fair, and careful about this important decision about the kind of technology the galaxy would be allowed to utilize.
Porter looked over the list. She nodded, and gestured towards the door on the opposite wall. “Your guests have arrived.”
“That was quick,” Crimson pointed out.
“It took a lot of time,” Porter explained, “and a lot of work.” Porter had the ability to summon just about anything from any point in time. If you wanted a cheeseburger, she could snap her fingers, and it would appear before you. She wasn’t creating these objects, but stealing them, though, so someone who prepared or ordered that burger had just lost it. Bigger jobs, like finding a half dozen people from all over time and space, took more effort. She couldn’t just pull each one from whenever she wanted. They were time travelers, who crisscrossed the timeline, and ran into each other unpredictably. Sometimes, one person will know something about another’s future, and in order to avoid these incongruencies, Porter had to find the very best version of each. Every person in the next room should be about as knowledgeable about the timeline as every other. Should.
“No,” Crimson said, “I’m an extremely advanced intelligence. Had you just teleported away, and tried to return to the same spot, I would have noticed.”
Holly Blue chuckled. “No, you wouldn’t. She’s that good.” She really was. Lots of time travelers had the ability to return to the spot they left so quickly that a human wouldn’t be able to detect that they were ever gone. Porter was the absolute best at this, however, so that even the most sensitive equipment couldn’t identify a change.
Hogarth opened the door, and stepped through to find all of their friends on the other side. And when she said all of them, she meant all of them. This was no quorum, but a plenum, meaning that every single member of the Shortlist had come. They had never had a full roster before, but that was probably because every invention one of them had come up with thus far had been for the benefit of the inner circle. This was at the request of the people of the Milky Way, so it was more delicate. Porter had done well for them.
“Madam Pudeyonavic,” Hokusai said with a nod.
“Madam Gimura,” Hogarth said back.
“What is this about?” Brooke Prieto asked.
“Obviously, I will explain everything,” Hogarth said. She looked towards their new mediator. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“Uh, I just happened to be with her.” Jeremy Bearimy gestured towards Leona Matic. “Am I meant to be here as well?”
“You are our honored guest,” Holly Blue told him.
Now J.B. looked nervous. “Is this a sex cult, or something?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Ramses Abdulrashid joked. “Haven’t made any progress on that front, bud.”
“It’s a meeting,” Holly Blue clarified. “You’re in charge of it.”
“Why me?” J.B. questioned.
“Because you’re not a member,” Brooke’s daughter, Sharice explained to him. “Neither am I.”
“We need you,” Hogarth said to her. “This is important.” She took a half step back to address the whole group. “This impacts the whole galaxy. It’s so important that Holly Blue and I haven’t even invented it yet. We have to consult you first, because it has the potential to literally destroy everything.”
“Ain’t that always how it is?” Kestral McBride pointed out.
“Shall we find somewhere to sit?” Ishida Caldwell suggested.
“Crimson,” Hogarth began, “do you know where we might hold this meeting, obviously in private?”
“Where’s my daughter?” Hokusai asked before Crimson could respond.
“You’ll see her later, mom,” Hogarth said.
“I better.”
“I know where you can go,” Crimson finally answered. It lifted Hogarth’s finger towards Porter’s face. “You can trace objects, right?”
Crimson demolecularized its finger, and sent it away, presumably to their meeting room.
Porter smirked, and nodded. “Gross.” With a wave of her hands, she spirited everyone away to follow the finger.

It was sitting in the middle of a table, like a message from a rival mafia family.
“Are we just gonna leave that there?” Pribadium Delgado asked.
Hogarth picked it up, and threw it into the material reclamator that appeared from the wall. It wasn’t something that could be reclaimed, but the sorting machines would filter it out, and dispose of it with the rest of the biowaste. She wished being able to regrow her own body parts was something she knew she could do all along.
They all found seats, and sat down. “First order of business,” Hogarth began, “I move to take point right now, so that J.B. can get up to speed, and understand what it is we do. I request a no-vote, but open the floor for any objections.” She waited a moment to see if anyone would object, which she didn’t think they would. Unlike most governmental bodies, there wasn’t any animosity amongst them. They disagreed with each other all the damn time, but they were always cordial, polite, and respectful. There was nothing wrong with her declaring herself the leader until J.B. was ready to take the job for himself.
She started off by explaining the purpose of the Shortlist, and why they felt it was necessary. Sharice jumped in with a few snide remarks, since she was the most resistant to the group as a whole. The alternate reality version of Holly Blue, who went by Weaver to avoid confusion, added her own thoughts, since she understood it all better than anyone. After that was finished, Hilde’s mother, Hokusai took the reins, and went over the rules of the meeting. She needed some additional help from Weaver in regards to protocol, because again, they had never all been in one place before. There would be times during this meeting when the discussion needed to be formal and blocked out, like a presidential debate. There would also be times when they needed to make it less formal, and more natural. They might even break into groups, and discuss the problem separately before coming back together. There would be no votes until they figured out what the votes would be. It was far more complex than just a question of whether they should allow time-siphoning technology to exist, or not. Once a vote did go through, that didn’t mean it was a done deal. By the end of the meeting, they would vote again, on whether to accept the results of all the other votes. It was this whole thing.
J.B. was a smart fella, so he picked it up right away, and embraced his role appropriately. Not everyone was like that. Nerakali tried to take over the group, and use it towards her own goals, which they should have guessed would happen. The Overseer was quite used to being the one to make decisions, and didn’t understand why her vote didn’t override all others. They once asked The Superintendent himself to mediate, but since his decisions did overrule everyone else’s, it was a disaster. That was how Hokusai and Hogarth ended up swapping technologies. They took a break after the introductions, and let people mingle. J.B. also needed time to look over the procedures guide that Weaver wrote. The rest had to be careful about preserving the timeline so as to avoid creating a paradox, but there were no real rules here, except that they couldn’t leave the room. No one would be able to leave until the first recess, which may never come. This wasn’t congress; they should be able to go through the entire agenda in one sitting. Hokusai was perturbed by this, because she didn’t get to see her daughter a whole lot. She agreed long ago to let Hilde live her own life, but had never truly accepted that. Their separation contract was set to expire after eleven more of their respective personal timeline years. They could see each other before then, but not for an extended period of time.
“So,” Hogarth said to Leona. “Where’s your husband, and when?”
“You ever heard of the Fourth Quadrant?” Leona prompted.
“Oh, that alternate reality, right?”
“Yep. He’s there, helping our friends save some lives, and whatnot.”
“Oh, cool.”
“So, this is Glisnia?” Leona was here a long time ago, when it was only a planet.
“Yeah, it’s a matrioshka brain now.”
Leona nodded. “I would like a tour one day, if at all possible.” She checked her watch out of instinct. I live in the early twenty-second century right now, but I’m scheduled to return to this time period in the next couple of months.”
Kestral, who was in the middle of a conversation with Pribadium, laughed. “It’s gonna be a lot longer than that.”
“Madam McBride, you know the rules,” J.B. said, stepping in. “No future-talk.”
“If you ask me, he’s enjoying this a little too much,” Kestral noted.
“I was gonna ask Sanaa Karimi to mediate,” Hogarth said.
Kestral took a sip from her cup. “Never mind.”
“All right,” J.B. announced. “I believe we are ready to restart. According to this, the next thing we need to do is confirm me as mediator.”
“Confirmed,” Brooke said.
“Seconded,” Sharice added.
“All in favor, say cello,” Kestral’s partner, Ishida declared. This was the random word she chose. Votes were not made by using the traditional aye and nay. No one in this group was liable to slack off, but by choosing a different word each time, they lowered the risk of someone voting after not having paid enough attention to know what it was they were voting on.
“Cello,” everyone voted in relative unison.
Since it was unanimous, no one could now vote against this, but Ishida was obligated to follow through regardless. “All against, say pangolin.”
No one said pangolin, not even Ramses, who was known for voting twice just to piss people off.
“Perfect,” J.B. said with a smile. “I feel so included.” He aimlessly flipped through the pages. “Now, I’ve been going over this manual, and have decided to start with a role-reversal argument. Hogarth, is it true that you are in favor of inventing time-siphoning technology?”
“I’m about as close to that position as anyone,” Hogarth believed. “I’m fairly neutral about it, though.”
“You...gave up your body so you could do it for these people, correct?” J.B. asked.
“I suppose that’s true.”
“Then you will be arguing against invention. Who here is the most against invention in actuality?”
Pribadium raised her hand. “I don’t think we should do it.”
“Scale of one to I’ll kill everyone in this room before I let this kind of technology get out into the universe.”
“Six, I guess,” Pribadium determined. “I don’t wanna kill anybody.”
“Can anyone give me a number higher than six?” J.B. opened it up to the group.
“I think I’m probably at an eight,” Holly Blue declared.
They were all surprised by this. “Miss Blue—” J.B. began.
“My name is Holly Blue; not Holly, not Miss Blue. Holly Blue.”
Apologies,” J.B. said sincerely. “Holly Blue, you co-signed the request for this plenum.”
“I was asked to come here,” Holly Blue began. “So I asked everyone else to come here, to talk Madam Pudeyonavic out of it.”
J.B. nodded understandingly, but stoically. Her attitude on the matter wasn’t at all against the rules. “Can anyone give me a ninth level opposition?”
No one spoke.
“Very well,” J.B. continued. “To recap, Hogarth will be arguing against invention, while Holly Blue will be arguing in favor of invention. Both parties agree?”
“Agreed,” Hogarth said, nervous.
“I’ll do my best,” Holly Blue conceded.
J.B. looked down at the manual. “Both sides are allowed one hour to prepare—”
“Right to waive,” Holly Blue said quickly.
“Preparation time twenty-five percent waived,” J.B. alerted.
“Waive,” Hogarth agreed.
“Fifty. General consensus?”
The crowd all seemed amenable.
“Seventy-five,” J.B. found. “And I waive too. A hundred percent waived. Madam Pudeyonavic, you have the floor.”
The Devil’s Advocate exercise wasn’t the only section of the meeting, but it was the most intense, and probably the one that informed most people’s votes later on. In the end, the group decided to proceed with invention, and that Holly Blue would be in charge of it every step of the way. Hopefully that would be fine.

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