Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Pryce of Heaven: Blackbody (Part II)

The beacon was live, but for only less than an hour. It went dormant after that, which suggests something happened to Lowell. Oh well, Jupiter figured. There was a reason they chose him for the task. If he was killed permanently, it would have no great impact on the timeline, and it’s not like he was ever a great person anyway. He did his job, and now it’s time to move on to the next phase. They’re standing at the Nexus annex on Earth, waiting for the technician to integrate the machine into their ship, which is too large to fit inside  the Nexus proper.
“Why are we in this other timeline?” Tetra asks.
“It’s not another timeline,” Téa explains. “It’s another reality. It runs parallel to our reality.”
“Yes,” Missy adds. “Other timelines technically take place in the past. When you go back in time, you don’t actually go backwards. What you do is bring the past conditions up to your present, and continue forward from there. You’re always moving forward.”
“I brought you to the Parallel,” Jupiter begins, “because I have the power to do so, and it’s kind of our one advantage. We will travel to the point in the galaxy where I picked up Lowell’s beacon, and then send us through a transition window back to the main sequence, so he doesn’t see us coming.”
“We still don’t have much information,” Téa argues. “We may know where Lowell was, but we don’t know where he is, and we don’t know what kind of technology this Pryce fellow has, or what. We don’t even know that he doesn’t have access to the Parallel.”
“That we do know,” Jupiter argues back. “Parallel researchers assure me that we are completely separate. Their version of death is different than ours. If you were to die here, you would not go to Pryce’s simulation.”
“What would happen to us if we died here?” Missy questions. “That would be kind of nice to know.”
The technician stops her work for a moment, and gives Jupiter this look.
“I’ve already asked that. Death is a touchy subject for these people even more than it is in our reality. They won’t talk about it.” He takes a beat. “But you don’t have to worry about that. Not only am I going to keep you safe, but all three of you have things to do in the timeline that you have not yet experienced. You will find your way back. You have to.”
“Speaking of which,” the technician says, “you will not be able to come back. Your ship is not capable of near instantaneous interstellar travel. I can send you where you wanna go, but once you get there, the connection will be severed. You’ll have to find some other way.”
“We’re not worried about that right now,” Jupiter assures her. “We’ll be in the main sequence, so it won’t matter what we can and can’t do.”
“That’s not really true,” Téa points out, but they drop the subject, and decide to hope for the best.
After a final system’s check, they climb into the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and prepare to launch. “Oh, by the way,” the technician says through the speaker. “You’re getting pretty close to Stellaris Collapsis Centralis. Things are gonna get slow for you.
“What’s Stellaris Collapsis Centralis?” Téa questions just as the engine reaches critical mass.
“Oh God,” Jupiter says as he’s massaging the bridge of his nose. “The blackhole.”
They jump.
“Missy!” Jupiter cries. “No, I, calculate temporal dilation with reference frame Earth.”
Calculating,” the computer responds.
“What’s going on?” Tetra asks, frightened.
“The time dilation is—” the computer tries to say.
“On-screen!” Jupiter orders.
The time difference appears on the screens before them.
“Missy, can you read those figures, and come up with a temporal bubble to match?” Jupiter asks.
“Give me a second.”
“We don’t have much more than a second,” he replies.
Missy takes a breath, and forms a bubble between her fingers, which expands far from them at the speed of her exhale. “Bubble’s away.”
“Computer, how long has it been since departure, realtime?”
Three years, four months, and twenty-nine days,” the computer answers.
“Ah, damn,” Jupiter says at a fairly low volume. “I didn’t want it to take this long.”
“Can someone please explain what happened?” Tetra asks.
Jupiter prepares to explain. “Gravity bends spacetime. The higher the gravity, the slower time moves. When you’re standing on the surface of Earth, time is actually moving slower for you than for someone floating on a space station in orbit—not by much, but not nothin’. Black holes have profoundly high gravity; higher than you’ve ever experienced before. We are extremely close to it, so while we were only here for a few seconds, almost three and a half years passed for everyone else. Well, I shouldn’t say everyone. Some people in this reality live relatively close to black holes. For them, maybe two years have passed, for others, only one. I asked Missy to generate a temporal bubble, to cancel out this gravitational time dilation. We’re now moving really fast compared to the region of space around us, but it’s matched up with the people on Earth.”
“Pryce must be using the time dilation to prevent people from finding the simulation,” Téa guesses.
“That would be my assumption,” Missy confirms. “If he’s this close to the event horizon, he hasn’t been here long.”
How long?” Tetra asks.
“Well, when did Pryce first arrive here?” Missy asks in return.
“Let’s assume he’s been here the entire time,” Jupiter puts forth. Based on what I’ve gathered, he started collecting consciousnesses about twelve thousand years ago.”
Missy taps on her screen a few times, and her eyes widen. “A day.”
“Excuse me?”
“A day,” Missy repeats. “If Tamerlane Pryce arrived in this region of space—this close to Sagittarius A-Star—then from his perspective, he’s only been here...for a day.”
“He must have his own way of manipulating time then,” Téa determines. “Mateo was communicating with Leona from the real world, from Earth.”
“The simulation would be running at a highly accelerated rate. The entities monitoring the computers from the outside, would only experience minutes, but for the people inside the simulation, decades have passed.”
“How does this help us?” Tetra asks. “How does it hurt us?”
“Well,” Jupiter says with relief, “thank God Missy’s here. Honestly, I chose this team for poetic value. I didn’t give much thought to who would be useful for the mission. We lucked out that Sanaa is one of the people who need rescuing, and that I’m kind of a psycho who wants to see what happens when she finds out her mortal enemy has saved her life.”
Téa continues the interrogation, “what happens when we transition to the other reality? How close are we to Lowell’s beacon?”
“We are safely two light years from it, so when we transition, we’ll have to make the journey across, as soon as we gather some data. It’ll only take us a day.” He directs his attention to Missy, “Miss Atterberry, you think you can hold up your bubble during the transition?”
“I don’t see why not,” Missy decides. “It’s not like I have to concentrate on it. I create a bubble, and then I let it be.”
“Okay. Then I’m gonna send us through,” Jupiter says, waiting for anyone to protest. Mateo or Lowell would have been the ones to do that, but they’re not a problem anymore. “Here..we..go!”
They switch back over to the main sequence. Everything seems to be about the same as it always was, but then they looked out the right viewport. They are flabbergasted and lost.
“What the hell am I looking at here?” Tetra asks. “Is there someone standing outside the ship?”
“Like a robot?” Téa adds. “It looks like a robot, or a statue.”
“Oh my God,” Jupiter says breathily. “I think that’s the matrioshka body.”
“That’s crazy,” Missy says, staring at the screen. “I’ve heard of a brain, but...someone built this thing?”
“Hogarth Pudeyonavic,” Jupiter answers. “It’s not supposed to exist for another two and a half centuries, and then some.”
“Can someone explain?”
“The matrioshka brain,” Missy starts to go over it. “What you do is build a bunch of structures around a star, which will absorb the light from that star, with what are basically gigantic hyperefficient solar panels. They don’t absorb all of it, though. Some light will get through, and those structures will radiate heat away. Notice how your phone gets hot when you use it too much? That’s just energy being wasted, and space is no exception. So what you do is build even more structures behind the first layer. They’ll catch that radiated heat, but will in turn radiate their own. So you build another layer. And another, and another, and another, until you’re no longer benefitting from the radiation. That’s a matrioshka brain. It’s not a solid sphere, but from far enough away, it looks like one. If we built one around Sol, the whole thing would extend farther than the orbit of Neptune. According to the computer, this brain is surrounding a red dwarf, so it’s smaller.”
“You call that small?” Téa can’t fathom anything larger than this.
“Yes, and it includes a full body. There’s not really any point in doing that, except that it’s badass, and I’ve never heard of it before, and I wish I had thought of it.”
“Someone stole it, and brought it to the past?” Tetra assumes.
“That would seem to be the case,” Jupiter agrees. “Pryce is more powerful than I imagined. Some argue you could build a sufficient simulation with a dyson sphere, which would just be one layer of structures, so this is extreme overkill.”
“How do we get over there?” Missy asks. “If he hasn’t detected us already, he will soon.”
“We’re quite close to darklurking,” Jupiter assures her. “That thing would probably just interpret us as a glitch in the system, we’re so small. That’s the benefit of a tiny ship. Everyone seems to think bigger is better, but that’s not always the case.”
“Computer, go ninety-nine percent dark,” Missy orders. “Life support, dim lighting, and HiBo grav only.” She sees Jupiter looking at her. “No point in testing our limits.” She starts tapping the computer screen. “There is no way we’re getting over there. He’ll spot us, and blow us out of the sky. I mean, one laser beam, and we won’t know what hit us.”
“Paige can get us there,” Jupiter says. “Or Tetra, rather.”
“All we need is a telescope,” he tells her. “It doesn’t take any power. I think they have one down in engineering, kind of for things like this.”
“Missy will help you find somewhere pressurized and oxygenated. Hell, I could do it. We all got our cuffs on. Everybody’s got everybody’s powers. You guys remember that? You need to learn to use them first, though; they’re not automatic.”
Tetra sighs. “You get me a clear shot inside a window, I’ll get us into that room.”
“Okay,” Missy says. “I’ll find something. It might take me awhile. I would really love to make sure there’s no one in that room when we get there.”
It really did take long for her to find a good entry point. The matrioshka body was predominantly designed to accommodate a species of people known as mechs. They don’t need air, and they don’t need gravity, and some don’t even need light. There are places regular organic humans could survive, but without the blueprints, or some foreknowledge of this place, they’re hard to see, especially since most of them are deeper in. Besides, for Tetra’s teleporting ability to work, she needs to see where she’s going. That can come in the form of a photograph, or straight line of sight, or—in this case—a telescopic view, but she can’t simply be cognizant of what’s on the other side.
“Wait,” Téa interrupts as they’re discussing the details of the jump. “When will we arrive in that room? I don’t know much about science, but I know that light moves at a certain speed. When we get there, will it be present day, or will it be two years ago?”
They look to Tetra.
“That’s the thing. I don’t know. Normally, it would be the past. I’m looking at a star that’s two light years away, which means the events unfolding before me happened two years ago. I’m not sure how to account for the black hole’s time dilation, or Missy’s time bubble. It’s kinda gonna be a crapshoot. Don’t misunderstand me when I say that I can’t recommend this course of action. I’ll do it if you want, but only if you want.”
Now they look to Jupiter.
“A lot of what I do is because I like the power...the control. I crave people doing what I say. I’ve grown a lot since I started doing this, though. Sending my teams into the Parallel, saving lives; it’s given me perspective, and changed me in ways I thought were hopeless since I was a child.” He shakes his head, and paces within a very small radius. “The old me would make you go, because I’m in charge. Now, though, I just want my people back. And I’m asking for your help.”
Now they all look to each other.
“Let’s do it.”
“I’m in.”
Missy double checks her work, then presents the eyepiece to Tetra. They jump, and make it all the way there...but not everyone survives.

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