Saturday, November 21, 2020

Glisnia: Body Politics (Part XII)

Hogarth Pudeyonavic was sitting alone in the Judgment Room. Glisnia was designed to be a perfect democracy, or at least as perfect as was possible. Literally everyone had an equal say, or at least it was supposed to be like that. Mekiolenkidasola and Crimson Clover misrepresented how the system worked, leading Hogarth to make decisions that maybe not everyone would have wanted. There was absolutely no law against her and Hilde being human, and no reason that she couldn’t help them if she was. Best guess, Lenkida spun her that lie to get her on the hook. She needed to be told something that would cause her to believe that he somehow spoke for the Glisnians, and was responsible for securing their interests in this matter. The truth was that he probably operated within some rebel faction, which opposed the greater good in some way. She didn’t have all the facts, though, so she needed to be patient. Right now, the Glisnians were here to gather her side of the story, so they could figure out what to do about this mess.
“State your designation, for the record.” It was a dermal mech who was talking to her, but she was channeling the will of everyone. The surface data of literally every single person in this matrioshka brain was being sent to her for processing, except for the opinions of the defendants. When enough of them had a question to ask, she was obligated to ask for them. When even more of them agreed upon a decision, that was the decision they would make, and it would be carried out by individuals like this mech. That was how the government worked, and that was what Lenkida purposefully kept from her. The judge’s name was a hex code as laid out in a fractal pattern, but for the sake of the non-mechs, like Hogarth, she went by Avalhana.
“Hogarth Meridia Pudeyonavic.”
“World of origin.”
“Earth, November 21, 1994.”
“Please only answer the question as it is posed, with no flourishes or extraneous information.”
“The record will show that the third question was answered, but unasked. Remove the line from the database.”
“Removed,” came a symphony of voices from the aether.
“At what point did you first arrive in Gliese 832 space? Please note that Gliese 832 space refers to the boundary—” Avalhana tried to begin.
“I understand what it means,” Hogarth interrupted. “Just because I’m human, doesn’t mean I’m a total moron. It was 2245.”
“Please refrain from interrupting, and from flourishes and commentary.”
“Look, like I said, you’re talkin’ to a human, which means you’re gonna have to be more flexible. Go on and tell your little mechs that we don’t process data the way you do, and I’m not going to roboticize my speech for the sake of efficiency. We’re all immortal here, who gives a shit how long this takes?”
Avalhana did not respond for a good few minutes, which could be centuries from her perspective. “We will...attempt to reach your level of communication.”
That was needlessly condescending, but okay. “Okay. Next question.”
“When did you first learn that you had the power to spontaneously fabricate multi-solar system-sized objects with little but your own strength and will?” Avalhana asked.
“About a month ago.”
This disturbed her.
“I don’t have an exact timeline for you. As you are well aware, organic beings store associative memory, rather than categorical memory. It is...less efficient, but more beautiful, and I stand by it.”
“Very well. Where did you learn this skill?”
“I didn’t learn it so much as I was accidentally imbued with the power when I absorbed the force of a blast that sent my entire town to a planet that was about one-point-seven-eight light years from Earth.”
She paused again. “There is no planet at such distance.”
“It was a rogue world. It has since moved on.”
“Understood. And you survived on this planet using your, umm...?”
They did not say umm very often, because they were not surprised or stumped very often. “Powers? No, not mine, other people’s. I don’t have the details.”
“There are others like you?”
Now Hogarth was the one to pause, but she knew she had to answer. It was the 25th century, and this wasn’t the first case that suggested that temporal manipulation would be revealed to the rest of the vonearthans sometime in this time period. Many time travelers claimed to have seen it in the future, and many more deliberately avoided traveling this far forward in the timeline, so as not to be caught in some time war. There would not likely be any war, but that didn’t make it perfectly safe. Others didn’t necessarily believe the rumors, but they exercised caution just the same, because people finding out about them was probably ultimately inevitable. “Yes, and before you ask, I don’t know how many, and I don’t know where they all are. We are not a monolith. They can travel through time, and I believe that they are mostly this time, because of you...who threaten..their secrets.”
“Are you at liberty to discuss these matters with us?”
“Who’s to say? There’s a prison for people who spill the beans, but I am about fifty percent sure that this time period is beyond their jurisdiction, for reasons I could not tell you.”
“Understood.” These answers probably altered Avalhana’s questions greatly, so she took a moment to reassess with the population. “Who asked you to build this—as it’s been called—the matrioshka body?”
“Was he your only point of contact for this project?”
“There was another, named Crimson Clover. I know that Lenkida lied to me about how much influence he had over this system, but I’m not clear on Crimson’s involvement. He may be almost completely innocent. He didn’t tell me how your government works, but perhaps it simply never came up.”
“We are not cognizant of the truth about him either.” She moved on, “have you ever heard of The Iunta?”
“I have not. Would you be able to explain?”
“They are a small faction within our population that seeks to form a hierarchy of control. We believe that Mekiolenkidasola is a member, and are attempting to ascertain if Crimson is as well, and whether you are.”
“I’m not lying, I’ve never heard that word before. I assume it’s a new formation of junta?”
“I’m sorry to have been involved with them, but I promise you that I was not cognizant of Lenkida’s affiliations, or his group’s existence, let alone their motivations.”
“It if exists, your ignorance would have been established by design.”
“My ignorance does exist.”
She nodded. “Please tell us about your other associates, and whether anyone is missing from this list. Hilde Unger, Ethesh Beridze, Holly Blue, Jupiter Rosa, and another man whose only name here is Richardson.”
Ambrose Richardson,” Hogarth added. “There are others, but I am not at liberty to discuss them. We have formed a council of sorts called The Shortlist. We determine whether a technological advancement that involves temporal manipulation is safe enough to be developed.”
“Why does this particular group form the council, and why not others?”
“We are the ones capable of these advancements. When we encounter someone else with such knowledge, comprehension, or ability, we place them on the council with us. I hope you understand that I will tell you all you want to know about time powers, but I will do so using generalities, and anecdotes; not specifics, and targeting language.”
“We believe that we can accept that,” Avalhana said. “We recognize the importance of discretion, and unlike humans, we do not possess an entitlement to know the truth about everything. The only question I’m hearing now is...are you a threat to us?”
Hogarth didn’t know the answer, not with any stable level of confidence.
“You may specify, if necessary. Are you, as an individual, a threat to us? Is this Shortlist? Is the greater population of your subspecies?”
“I, personally, am not,” Hogarth began. “Nor is the Shortlist. Like any population, however, there are those who would seek to destroy, improve, control, or otherwise impact that which they encounter. You are something that can be encountered, and I cannot guarantee that no one will attempt to insert themselves into your society, for whatever reasons they have. This is true of anyone, however, and I implore you not to attack any potential threat without diplomacy first, and a clear violation of your rights. I think we all know what the humans fear about your potential. Earthan entertainment is riddled with cautionary tales about fictional artificial intelligences who rise against their creators. I can tell you, however, that I will do everything I can to protect you, just as I would protect others from you.”
“This is a fair analysis,” Avalhana, and the collective, decided. “We will not depend on your protection. We would, however, appreciate your guidance in matters of temporal manipulation, and ask that you remain on Glisnia in order to serve as our liaison to anyone with the same, or similar, abilities.”
“That’s...not what I thought you would say.”
“You were expecting to be exiled or extinguished?”
“I was.”
“That is not how we do things. Had Mekiolenkidasola been honest with you, you would have known that about us.”
“What will happen to him, and Crimson, and my friends who are still here?”
“Your friends will be allowed to stay with you, should they choose. My collective is eager to make you aware that you are not obligated to remain either. You act on our behalf upon your own volition, and you are under no contract to maintain your position for any specified period of time. We do ask, however, that while you are in this position, you endeavor to protect Glisnian interests, and develop a strong enough sense of loyalty in pursuit of this condition.”
Hogarth smiled at the formality. “I can do that. And of Crimson?”
“He will be judged shortly, as you have been.”
“I have one request.”
She extended her hand to offer Hogarth the privilege of continuing. “Lenkida and Crimson are aware of certain details about me and my people, which I would rather remain unknown to all others.”
Avalhana waited to respond as she listened to the collective opinion. “It is our understanding that you possess reasonable technical skills, and would be able to use these skills in order to delete targeted memories from a mechanical entity?”
“Umm...I’m not totally comfortable with that. Can’t you just conduct a preliminary hearing to determine their guilt, and then erase the sensitive memories afterwards? Does every judgment have to include the entire Glisnian collective? I’m all right if one or two other people know some stuff about me, just not everybody.”
They discussed her proposal. “We agree to your terms. We will adjourn for one standard Earthan hour to develop a new plan, and to give the humans time to rest.”
“Thank you.”
Avalhana nodded slightly, but said nothing further.

Hilde was waiting for her in the other room. She was noticeably shaking.
“Hey, hey,” Hogarth said calmingly. “Everything’s fine. We were lied to, but the mechs are not unreasonable people. Nothing’s gonna happen to us.”
“Are you just trying to make me feel better?” Hilde questioned.
“Does that sound like me?”
“No, but—”
“No more butts. We already got two; we don’t need any more. I assure you that we’re good. We can stay here. They even wanna give me a job.”
“You’re joking.”
“Really. I told them about time travel. They’re worried someone else with powers is gonna come along, and they won’t know how to handle it.”
“We are not staying here, Hogarth.”
“You don’t want this for me?”
“There are billions of mechs on this world—station—brain, whatever you call it, and they’re probably going to replicate themselves exponentially to fill out the body that you built them. We can’t be the only humans here, it’s just not safe.”
“It is safe, and you know that it is, because I’m telling you that it is. If something goes wrong, I can jump us out of here at a moment’s notice.”
“You mean you can explode us?”
“I can exploport us.”
Hilde rolled her eyes. That term was not catching on.
Ethesh rolled up. “Yo, is everything okay?”
“Yes,” Hogarth replied. “You can stay here, if you want.”
“Cool,” he said casually.
“Good answer,” Hogarth told him, then switched her attention back to Hilde. “Your turn to try.”
Hilde inhaled and exhaled melodramatically. “I will approximate an acceptance of the situation.”
“Close enough, we’ll get there.”
“What are we gonna do now?” Ethesh asked.
“I have a few ideas,” Hogarth said with a smirk. “We could do with another sun to make it work, though. I’m thinkin’ a yellow dwarf this time.”
“Oh, no.”

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