Saturday, January 9, 2021

Exemption Act: Necessary Evil (Part II)

The new team continued talking, asking questions, and arguing. Freya was used to being conscripted for missions, and fighting for causes she didn’t know anything about. It was just part of her life, so even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to do this, it was no longer in her nature to try to get out of it. These other people had no such experiences. They were polite and careful, but didn’t just agree to this blindly. If there was one thing Freya learned about the Maramon, it was that they weren’t very cunning, and they did not play the long game. If one of them approached you, and asked for your help, they were probably—honestly—one of the good ones, and knew that you were good too. Good Maramon like Khuweka were rare, and seemed to only become that way after spending time with decent human beings, but they were not raised as such. They developed in a universe that was literally smaller than most, and suffered a lack of resources beyond most people’s conceptions. They were angry and spiteful, and they only ever showed potential for change on the individual level, when they were removed from society, and their people’s bizarre worldview.
As one might expect, the ethicist, Professor Spellmeyer was the hardest to convince, while Limerick was the easiest. He didn’t know anything about the Ochivari, but he deliberately chose to think of them as insects, rather than insectoids, which would make wiping them out less like genocide, and more like large scale pest control. The Ochivari were somehow dragonfly-based, but they were not dragonflies, and did not evolve from them. According to what little data people were able to gather on them, their skin looked like that of a bug’s, but it was not an exoskeleton, and they were shaped like humans, complete with arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Their wings were not useless, but they did not allow them to fly. They used them in battle, to blow gusts of winds at their opponent, or to dodge attacks. They were very fragile, however, and even though damaging one didn’t cause too terribly much pain for the victim, they weren’t likely to heal, and doing so did lessen any advantage they had.
Freya called all this the source variant, which was a term one of her friends coined to refer to a subspecies that developed on an alien planet. They originally came from human DNA, which was shipped across the galaxy, and seeded on other habitable worlds. So they came from humans, but each unique environment shaped each unique population in unique ways. By being exposed to a different atmospheric composition, being fed different foods, and possibly by interstellar radiation, their genetic make-up was transformed into something different; probably always humanoid, but rarely—if ever—passably human. Freya and Zektene spent time on a planet with two of these source variants. The Orothsew were human-based, and the Gondilak Maramon-based. It was kind of a coincidence that both parent species chose to seed life on the same planet, except it wasn’t that far-fetched, because there were a finite number of hospitable worlds available, and humans wanted to live everywhere they possibly could.
The Ochivari were presumably created in the same way as the Orothsew, but on a second planet that they called Worlon. One of them came to Orolak once, intending to bring death and destruction to all inhabitants. When Freya and Zek left, the people they left behind were working on defending Orolak from this threat. The two of them made it their responsibility to go on the offense, so while they weren’t happy about the temporal genocide, it would accomplish what they set out to do, and bonus, they weren’t going to have to do it alone.
The engineer, Carbrey was either massaging his eyes, or trying to pluck them out with his fingers. He was not being gentle, because this was stressing him out so much. “Let me get this straight. You want me to build a spaceship from scratch that can travel at superluminal speeds. We don’t have that on my Earth.” He was more concerned with the logistics than the ethics, which was fine because they probably needed a break from the intense debate.
“Well, you won’t have to build it from nothing,” Khuweka clarified. “The humans in this time period have interstellar ship technology today. They’re just lacking our speed requirements, which I will procure from The Shortlist. I just don’t want to take a preexisting ship, because we would have to steal it.”
“What is the Shortlist?” Limerick asked, interested in it because it sounded ominous and cool. Freya didn’t know either.
“The Shortlist is a group of incredibly bright and busy women who are responsible for time travel technology in this universe,” Khuweka explained. “Most of the galaxy is not allowed to have their technology, because it would screw things up. If we want the specifications of the reframe engine, we will have to put in a request to them. Or at least, we might. I’ll contact the inventor first. She may be able to sign off on it without a full council meeting.”
“Okay,” Zek said, “who is this inventor, and how do we get in touch with her?”
“Her name is Hokusai Gimura,” Khuweka revealed.
“Oh, we know her,” Freya realized. “She’s the one trying to protect Orolak from the Ochivari.”
“Yes,” Khuweka began. “While that won’t happen for another two thousand some odd years, I believe the Hokusai living on the Earth at the moment has already experienced that in her personal timeline. I’m not sure, though, so careful what you say.”
“She’s on Earth right now?” Zek asked.
“Yes,” Khuweka began, “living alone on the beach in a place formerly known as Dounreay, United Kingdom.”
“She’s alone?” Freya pressed. “Does she want visitors?”
“If she wants us to leave, we’ll leave, and if we have to do that, we’ll try to reach the Shortlist, and perhaps a younger Madam Gimura will be more agreeable. For now, Miss Cormanu, could you please teleport us to that location?”
“I can only take two by two,” Zek explained.
“That’s fine.
They made the trip halfway across the globe, and ended up on the shore of the North Atlantic Ocean. A little hut had been erected several meters away, really just large enough for one person; two, if they were fine being close to each other. Someone was lounging back in a chair on the approximation of a front porch. They approached, and found her to be Hokusai Gimura, but a much, much older version of her.
“Madam Gimura,” Khuweka greeted her. “My name is Khuweka Kadrioza. You may also call me Keynote, if you’d like.”
“Just set it over there,” the old Hokusai said, haphazardly pointing to the ground beside her.
“Set what over here?”
Hokusai finally turned to look at who she was talking to, tipping her sunglasses down to get a better view. “Oh, I thought you were a...never mind. What can I help you with?”
“We were hoping to procure the plans for the reframe engine. I’m sure you have reserva—” Khuweka interrupted herself when she noticed Hokusai tapping on her wristband. “Umm...”
A flashcard popped out of the wristband. Hokusai sighed as she removed the card from its slot, and dropped it into Khuweka’s hand. “There ya go.”
“You don’t wanna know what we’re gonna use it for? I have this whole speech about necessary evil.”
“I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m tired.”
“We’re sorry to have bothered you,” Freya jumped in.
Now Hokusai perked up. “Madam Einarsson?”
“Miss,” Freya corrected. “Never married.”
“Oh, you’re the other one, that’s right. Anywho, I have a very busy day of not engineering any inventions. You may stay if it strikes your fancy, but when the sunglasses go on, the mouth goes off, ya dig?”
Khuweka carefully dropped the flashcard into Carbrey’s hand, like it was radioactive. “Maybe someday. You take care of yourself, Madam Gimura.”
Hokusai just nodded her head. She must have been through a lot since Freya last saw her. Time travel will do that to you, and who knew who she lost along the way? Her wife, Loa was conspicuously missing.
“We’ll be on this planet for the next two years or so,” Freya told her after the rest of the group had started walking back down the beach, even though they could teleport from anywhere. “I don’t have a phone number or anything, though...”
“I won’t need anything,” Hokusai promised. “Thanks for the sentiment.”
Freya just kept watching her with a sad panda face, even as Zektene started transporting the team back to home base.
“Really, I’m fine. Don’t you worry about me. Just kill those dragonfly mother fuckers. Kill them all.” So she already knew.
Zek offered to leave Freya there, so she could have a deeper conversation with Hokusai, but they all knew that wasn’t what Hokusai wanted. They just went back to where they were, an underground facility in what was once called Kansas.
They watched as Carbrey inserted the flashcard into the reader, and opened up the files. It took him a moment to get used to the system. Different universe, different way to use computers. He picked it up pretty quickly, and started looking over the data that Hokusai had given them. “Hmm.”
“What?” Khuweka asked.
“No, it’s’s an interesting way to look at faster-than-light travel. I mean it’s just warp speed, but the math works out a lot easier this way. Anyone with a second-level higher degree would be able to decipher this, except...”
“Except what?” Limerick asked.
“I don’t know what this thing is.” Carbrey pointed at the screen.
“Oh, that’s the cylicone,” Khuweka started to explain. “Vital to any time tech. It’s what makes it work, and why a post-grad has no chance of stumbling upon the secret.”
“People aren’t allowed to know about this?” Carbrey questioned.
“Time travelers only,” Freya answered.
“For now,” Khuweka added cryptically. “Can you do it? This world has nanotechnology and ninety-nine automation. All you need to do is make sure everything runs smoothly. Two years should be no problem, but if we don’t make that goal, we really will have to go back in time. I don’t want that seed plate landing on Worlon, and so much as starting to create the Ochivari.”
Carbrey took in a breath, and looked back at the data. “I don’t know how your tech works, so there will be a learning curve. I can’t promise two years just because of that. I’ll go as fast as I can, though.”
“I think you can do it,” Khuweka said confidently. “Like I said, it’s all automated. Spaceships aren’t run by pilots, or even astronauts. They’re run by AI, regulated by engineers, like yourself.”
“All right,” Carbrey said. He went back to the computer.
“What are we going to do for the next two years?” Limerick asked as the group was stepping away to give their engineer some space.
“Hopefully we’ll be discussing this matter further,” Andraste recommended. “It’s fine he starts working on that thing, but we are nowhere near done yet.”
Khuweka was trying very hard not to roll her eyes. “Very well, Professor Spellmeyer. Let’s do an exercise called Devil’s Advocate. Professor, since you’re so adamantly opposed to this idea—”
“That’s not what I’m doing here,” Andraste argued.
“How do you mean?”
“I’m not opposed to the idea,” Andraste continued. “I just want to make sure you’ve considered the ramifications of your choices. Ethicists don’t take sides. We provide facts, or provide ways of determining facts.”
“Well, is anyone actually opposed?” Khuweka opened up the floor. “The Devil’s Advocate exercise only works when someone wants to do it, and someone doesn’t, so they can switch places, and argue each other’s position.” She waited for someone to say something, but everything they had heard about the Ochivari, and what they had done, had seemed to erase any true reservations they had. Andraste would probably always be wary—as would peaceable healer, Landis—even after the mission was over, but that didn’t mean they weren’t going to go through with it. “Okay,” Khuweka said with an air of finality. “We will continue to refine our methods, and contemplate the ethics, but I think it’s time we agree that this is happening, in one form or another. For now, let me introduce you to this fun little game I found out about called RPS-1o1 Plus.”

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