Saturday, April 3, 2021

Big Papa: And Twins! (Part VI)

I decide that we’re all going to go seek out Hogarth Pudeyonavic in base reality. Just because Lowell and I are the only ones who already have bodies waiting for us doesn’t mean the others can’t come with. It’s within my power to level up anyone I want, and I’m choosing to do that with Nerakali, Gilbert, and Aldona. The latter was already technically promoted—records I found corroborate this—and I may need her in order to get answers from Hogarth. People in the simulation generally retain their likeness from when they were alive, even when they reach a level high enough to entitle them to new forms. Most choose to look as they did when they were younger, like Aldona, who was an old woman when she died. Though some feel more comfortable with an older look. Perhaps they were underestimated as children, and only received the respect of others later in life. Or maybe they just don’t want to pretend that they’re not old, because it somehow hides the amount of time they’ve been around, or feels like a lie. Only a small percentage like to go around looking like bunnies, or pop culture nostalgiabots, but this still accounts for hundreds of millions of people.
Regardless of how they choose to present themselves in the simulation, each individual contains within them their original DNA sequence, completely intact, and unaltered. This allows them to be resurrected in a clone that a lab can create at a moment’s notice. The process only takes a few minutes, and not even due to temporal manipulation. The majority of regular humans are born about the same. They have a head, face, neck, shoulders, two arms, a torso, and two legs, along with many other little bits. A long time ago, back when independent companies still existed, one of them invented a proprietary product that people affectionately referred to as the floor model. It has all those things that make a person a person. It’s only missing a few unique characteristics, such as skin color, eye shape, and genitalia. These additions are therefore, relatively speaking, quick to make, since they’re starting out with something pretty well formed. Height is the longest time drain when configuring a clone, but even that isn’t too hard. No one is quite sure how to scale the operation up to a hundred and ten billion people at once, which is just another reason why Pryce hasn’t resurrected them all yet, so I’m wondering whether this so-called Beyond might address that.
Lowell and I de-res ourselves from the sim, and transport over to the rebirthing section, where the other three have already been transferred to a holding program. The lab technician is working on the clone configurations. About an hour later, everyone is out, and an hour after that, they’re able to move around on their own. It took a lot longer for me and Lowell, but apparently people usually prepare for resurrection by going to classes. This allows their minds to more quickly acclimate to the new physical substrate.
Aldona breathes in deep, and yawns. “It feels so good to do that again, and know that it’s real. It’s so much more of a relief when it’s not just a subroutine.”
“Agreed,” Nerakali says.
“Gacar,” I say into my communicator. “Have you located Hogarth Pudeyonavic yet?”
I have,” Gacar replies. “Sending you her coordinates now.”
“Thank you so much.”
It is a joy.”
Once the data comes through, the five of them teleport to the nearest Nexus chamber, which should transport them to wherever Hogarth is. It could be all the way up in the head of the matrioshka body, or in the toes. This doesn’t really say, they’re just numbers. The Nexus tech seems to recognize them, though. “Whitecards, please.”
Aldona reaches out her hand, and triggers a hologram above her palm, a floating white rectangle with lines all around it that look like circuitry.
“And the rest?”
“We don’t have whitecards,” I explain. They are evidently something extra you get when you’re resurrected that authorizes you to meet with Hogarth. “I run the simulation, though.”
The tech shakes his head slowly. “I can’t send you to this location without a whitecard. You’ll have to speak with your leader.”
“I am the leader,” I try to clarify. “I usurped Tamerlane Pryce. You can check with the Glisnian authority on that. If the coordinates deliver people to a satellite location for the afterlife simulation, then I’m perfectly allowed to go there. And I’m allowed to have anyone I want accompany me, including these three other people.”
The tech reluctantly contacts whoever he needs to contact, and of course the interaction confirms that I was telling the truth. But the same thing happens again once we transport and arrive at our destination. “I’m sorry,” the new tech says. “I couldn’t sneak you in if I wanted to.” He points to the exit. “That door will not open without a whitecard for every passenger...or the gearkey.”
“Oh, the gearkey?” I say. “Well, I have that.” I reach into my bag, and present him with the physical version of the gear that Pryce left me.
“Oh. Well, that grants you authority zero over this place, sir. I’m terribly sorry for the confusion. Right this way, please.” After using my key to unlock the door, he leads us out of the Nexus building, and into what’s very clearly a small spaceship. He climbs into the pilot seat, and starts flipping switches. I’m hovering behind him, looking out the viewport. “Go ahead and make yourself comfortable, sir. The trip will take forty-two reframe days.”
“I didn’t know I was gonna be gone that long,” I lament, wondering whether I should turn back.
“Pryce was frequently gone for that long,” Aldona points out, “or longer. You should be fine.”
“Okay, because that’s, like, eighty light years.”
“Eighty-three,” the pilot specifies.
“We can’t just take a Nexus?” Gilbert questions.
“Ain’t no Nexus where we’re goin’.” With that, the pilot starts the engine, and takes off.
A month and a half later, we’re coming up on our destination.
“Is that...?”
“Did we go in a circle?”
“No, it’s not the same one. It’s bigger.”
“It’s much bigger.”
“This changes everything.”
The matrioshka body where the afterlife simulation is located is about half the size of the solar system where Earth is located. It’s head encompasses a red dwarf, which despite them both containing the word dwarf, is less than half the mass of yellow dwarf, Sol, and also half its radius. It’s hard to see scale like this, but the structure they’re coming up on right now does look a hell of a lot bigger than that. “It’s more than twenty-eight times the size of the matrioshka body,” the pilot reveals. “That’s why we called it Big Papa.”
“Glisnia built a second structure,” Lowell notes in awe.
“No,” the pilot contends. “Glisnia doesn’t even know about it. “This is all Madam Pudeyonavic, and her team. That’s why it has to be off the Nexus grid, and why most people need whitecards to pass.”
“What does Pryce do here?” I ask.
“I don’t ask those questions,” the pilot answers soberly.
Once he’s docked, he refuses to leave the vessel, and insists that we all go the rest of the way alone. Blinking lights lead our way down the passageways, and into a room that kind of looks like it houses a Nexus, but it’s of a completely different design. It transports them to another location, where Hogarth Pudeyonavic is waiting.
“My spies told me that the afterlife sim is now under new management,” Hogarth says after she greets them. “I am glad for this.”
“Are you working for him, or with him?” I ask.
Hogarth laughs. “Please. He works for me.”
“You built this,” Nerakali says, looking around, “just like the other one?”
“Yeah,” Hogarth confirms. “Figured I would go bigger this time.”
“What is it for?”
“Anything we want,” she says. “I got tired of living under Glisnian rule after several centuries, and decided I didn’t need them anymore. I guess I never did. Ethesh and I designed it together, and I built it by siphoning a few particles from different celestial bodies, all over the universe. I’ve been wandering that galaxy ever since. It was only in recent centuries that Pryce found out where I had gone off to, and asked to be a part of it. When you’re as old as I am, wars start to feel like petty disagreements between children. He doesn’t seem so bad to me anymore; more like a minor annoyance. Still, if he’s truly gone, then that can only be a good thing.”
“Believe me,” I say with a laugh. “I know what it feels like to have thousands of years on others. Maybe we can grab some proverbial coffee, and swap stories sometime. Right now, though, I would like to ask about the Beyond. Is it true that it’s a different universe?”
“Yes, but it’s attached to ours, so their respective timelines will always remain linked.”
“Why do this?” Lowell questions. “Why do dead people need their own universe? Can’t they just eventually resurrect in the original? Living people should understand by then.”
“It’s not just for dead people,” Hogarth explains. “I’m having this place built for many reasons, and that’s only one of them. I wanted a place with new physical laws, ones which I believe are better for people. The powers that be can’t control this one, and nor can The Superintendent, so that’s a plus. But mainly, I just wanted to see if I could do it.”
“Well, we’re here to find out what we can report to the World-Builders and Unrestricteds,” I say. “They eagerly await news.”
“I use Pryce’s World-Builders as creative labor, but they’re pretty self-driven and independent. I haven’t met with any of them for a couple decades,” Hogarth replies. “We meet in a section of Big Papa that bridges the universes. I can take you there.”
We climb back into the transporter. There’s no technician in some control room. Hogarth just seems to activate it with her mind, and navigates us to the right destination. A man greets us when we arrive, and says that he’ll lead us to someone he just refers to as the boss. We follow him out of the transporter room, and into a beautiful and calming forest. We walk a short way down a rocky but comfortable path, and come to a wooden desk several meters away. It’s not cut like a regular desk, though. It looks more like it was grown from the ground, and naturally formed into the vague shape of a desk. Someone is standing behind it, but crouched over, presumably searching for something in one of the drawers. When he finds it, he stands up straight, and notices them there. Of course, it’s Tamerlane Pryce.
“Oh,” he says, stretching his lips out to an awkward grimace. “I did not think you would find this place. At least not for another hundred years, or so.”
“Who is that in the prison?” I ask accusatorily. “A clone?”
“Well, he’s in a virtual world, so no, he’s not a clone. He’s just an avatar,” Pryce answers.
“That was all just a lie. You’ve been here the whole time, completely free. I thought you said you didn’t lie.”
“That technically wasn’t a lie,” Pryce contends. “Because I didn’t technically say that. My avatar did, and he doesn’t like lying.”
“He didn’t tell us about you, and that was a lie!” I shout.
“Omission, lie, whatever.”
“Did you know about him?” I ask Hogarth, almost as accusatorily.
“Like I said, I haven’t been here for awhile,” she repeats.
“I’ve been here longer than that,” Pryce clarifies. “I’ve been here for two hundred and sixteen years.”
“Excuse me?” Hogarth questions.
“We’ve been dealing with your avatar this entire time?” I press.
“Yes, but I’ve been monitoring his conversations remotely. I know all that he told you.”
“What the hell is going on,” I demand to know.
“I abandoned the afterlife a long time ago,” Pryce claims. “After a few millennia, it gets really boring. Can you imagine? I don’t have to, I lived it. I lived every second of it, and I just had to get out of there. I never really wanted it. It’s not real. I much prefer being out here.” He breathes in deep through his nose. “I love the smell of fresh base reality in the morning.”
“Why did your avatar give me control of the simulation? Why did he send himself to hock?” None of this makes any sense.
“I monitor his conversations,” the real Pryce reiterates. “I don’t talk to him. I’m not even a hundred percent sure he’s aware I’m doing that. So you can try to ask him yourself.”
“How do I know that he’s the avatar?” I continue. “What if you’re the copy?”
“Oh, like Space Beth?” He stares into space quizzically, and ponders the question like a thoughtful philosophy professor. “Um. Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter, does it? He’s not my copy so much as we’re copies of each other. So you have been dealing with the real Pryce. And also I’m the real Pryce. We’ve been apart so long, we’re two different people now.”
“Which one is the asshole?” Lowell jumps in.
“Both,” Pryce says. “I’m not quite as bad, however. I’ve spent a great deal of time in nature, away from technology. It can change a man. I don’t regret the things I did in my past, but I’m not that person anymore.”
I shake my head and scoff.
“I can prove it,” Pryce promises. “Come on, I wanna show you something.”

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