Saturday, June 26, 2021

Sic Transit...Res Historia (Part VI)

They pierced the membrane, and landed in the new universe. It already looked a lot different than the first one, but that could have just been more about where they happened to come through. There was no city before them, but trees and other wildlife. They were in the middle of a great field, and there was no sign of intelligent life. “The reason I didn’t pick this universe first,” Azura began, “was because of payment. The people of Whrweh will be a lot more welcoming, but they will expect something in return for their help. It’s interesting how their society developed. They never came up with a form of currency that was accepted by all. They understand the concept, but just chose not to do it. They relied heavily on a robust bartering system all the way into their pre-singularity era. Now that they live in post-scarcity, they have everything they need, but in order to deal with alien cultures—which do exist here, for reasons I won’t get into—they continue to exchange favors. If we want power systems, we’ll have to genetically engineer a dog with two heads, or teach some random group of people how to sing.
“These favors don’t mean anything to them, they just want us to have to work for it, because they don’t think it’s fair to give away something for free. The problem is that they accept no substitutes. The council will decide what they expect of us, and that could take up to a month. We can either take it or leave it, but we can’t offer them something else. Seriously don’t even try, that is incredibly rude in their eyes, as they consider it a form of negotiating. We just have to hope it’s something that we can give. I don’t know how to genetically engineer dogs, or teach people to sing, so cross your fingers.”
“How did they advance to a post-scarcity society without ever having money?” Treasure asked, using her tiara. This was just how she was gonna talk now. Her true voice would be reserved exclusively for travel.
“Very slowly,” Azura explained, “but steadily. They remained in small and somewhat isolated pockets. Each pocket developed on its own, for if they attempted to reach out to others too much, it would make things too complicated, and they probably would have needed to devise a banking system. One thing this did was pretty much prevent all war. I mean, there has been almost no violence in their history, because people lived where they could find the resources, and operated independently. They still shared information with each other, but they didn’t collaborate directly. Their impact on their environment has been incredibly low, impressing even the Ochivari, and insulating them from attacks. They don’t live on the surface anymore. They live on the orbital ring.”
Just then, a shuttle dropped down from the sky, and landed on the grass in front of them. Azura led the crew out. “Greetings, friends,” she said. “We come on a peaceful mission, seeking power systems to repair our vessel.”
The man stepped closer to them, and sized up The Transit. “Peaceful,” he echoed. “We know what you are, this is not a peaceful mission.” It was starting to look like what happened in the last universe would happen here, or something similar.
“We discovered this ship, and are only trying to use it to return home to Universum Originalis. While this is destined for war, we are not its warriors.” Azura wasn’t technically lying, as she wasn’t part of the war yet, but she had every intention of joining, so it wasn’t the whole truth either.
“We do not interfere with the Darning Wars,” the man said, “but do not mistake that for endorsement. We do not interfere...on either side.”
“Hmm,” Azura said, only loud enough for the crew to hear. “Our database is incomplete. Obviously they’re peaceful, but I believed they would help us.”
Treasure decided to speak up, “please take our request to the council. Let them decide our fate.”
Azura looked over at her approvingly. This was the right thing to say.
“I am obligated to relay your message,” he agreed. “Payment is never guaranteed, but...I do not look favorably upon your chances. Come. You will stay with us while you await your answer.”
“Stay with the Transit,” Azura ordered Siphon and Spectra, and was met with no protest. The rest of them stepped into the shuttle, and went up to see what this orbital ring thing was all about. Treasure had never heard of it before.
It was exactly what it sounded like, a massive ring suspended in space that went all around the planet. People did not go down to the surface very often, instead deciding to leave it to the plants and animals. They mostly lived in large structures that were hanging from the bottom, down towards the atmosphere, like gargantuan stalactites. How interesting. The Transit crew stayed there for about a week, learning about their culture and history in the museum, and enjoying some of their entertainment. People didn’t seem to know anything about other universes, it was really just the representative who came down to investigate. The locals just figured they were from some other planet, if they even asked where they were from at all. They blended right in quite easily, because they were just nine out of tens of billions of people. Once the council was ready with their decision, they summoned the crew to council chambers.
“Thank you for coming,” Council Leader Ignatius said. She sat up there with her own crew, high above the floor, forcing all who seek help from them to literally look up to them. “We understand that you would like some advanced power system to integrate with train.”
“That’s right,” Azura answered. “We would be eternally grateful, and eagerly await your charges.”
Ignatius nodded. “In exchange for our technology, we ask that the first thing you do with it is to travel back to our past, and extract an important figure before his death.”
“What’s that now?” Azura questioned. It was okay to ask for clarification, just not to argue or propose conditions.
“Mizakh Bordalajner is one of the most influential leaders of our history. It was he who first predicted that we would one day live as we are living today. He came up with the idea of the orbital ring, and he fiercely argued in favor of ecological mindfulness, so our species would survive long enough to realize his dreams. He, of course, died long before singular immortality, and we would like to reward him for his efforts by bringing him up to our present, and saving him. Have no fear, time travel is impossible in this universe without the aid of a machine such as yours. We do not wish for you to alter the past. Simply remove him from his deathbed, and bring him back here, so our advanced science can keep him alive forever.”
Azura looked at the four people to her left, and the four people to her right, just to gauge their reception of the request. No one seemed to have any objections. It was fair, within their power, and unlikely to cause problems for this world, or come with unforeseen consequences. Even if it did have consequences, that wasn’t really the crew’s problem. “We accept. Provide us with the pertinent information, and we’ll go retrieve your man.”
“That will not be necessary,” Ignatius said. “One of our top historians will be accompanying you, to make sure the mission moves forward smoothly.”
Azura nodded deeply, and cordially.
The anti-negotiation stance was a two-way street. The council failed to request that their own people would be the ones to install the new power systems on the Transit. Once the council meeting closed, they could no longer amend the request any more than the Transit crew could have. It would have been unfair, and unjust. They were a consistent and thoughtful people. So the crew was able to insist that they be the ones to interface human technology with Maramon technology, and get the whole thing up and running. It took longer, but they didn’t want anyone else getting their hands on bulk travel knowledge. Causality was grateful for the limited number of parties capable of risking paradoxes for all of reality.
The historian was a woman in her late twenties named Rosalinda. Treasure’s first impression was that she was nice and talkative. She loved to tell anecdotes from history, and she probably taught them more than they could ever learn from the museums. She also knew everything there was to know about this Mizakh Bordalajner. He was exactly where he was meant to be, exactly when he was meant to be there. They even knew when he would be alone, so that no one would try to stop them from abducting their loved one. The mission was so boring that only Siphon and Spectra were sent into the field. They returned with no problems, Bordalajner was hooked up to life support, and the Transit went back to the future. The problem was that this was not the correct future. Whrweh was still there, and perfectly intact, but the Whrwehs were gone. They had died out centuries ago, and the only explanation was the absence of this one historical figure. Even though he died anyway, he must have had a significant impact on the outcome of events.
“All right,” Azura said, quickly getting over the shock. “This isn’t a problem. All we have to do is go put him back. The Transit can mask its signature from itself, our past selves won’t even know we were there. We’ll put him back in bed right after the Young!Siphon and Young!Spectra first took him. Everything will go back to normal. We’ll figure out an alternative payment later. Rosalinda here can vouch for us, and explain why it didn’t work.”
“I don’t know why it didn’t work,” Rosalinda revealed. “He died. In fact, and I didn’t want to say this before, but he went missing. This was all destined to happen. At least I thought it was. I thought we were just closing a timeloop.”
“We are,” Treasure said. “We’re closing it now. Quino and I will put him back in bed. It’s best not to run into your alternate selves.”
“I’ll go too,” Rosalinda insisted. “It’s my world.”
“Very well,” Azura decided. “Let’s go.”
They returned to the past, overlapping with their own timeline, and preparing to make the exchange. If everything went according to plan, not five minutes would pass from the time Siphon and Spectra first took him, and the time Treasure, Quino, and Rosalinda put him back. No one would ever know they were there, not even their Past!Selves. It did not go according to plan. They avoided being seen by the other two crew members just fine, and got him back to bed, no problem. It was getting out that messed things up. Mizakh’s husband came back in time to see them trying to sneak out of their house. He shouted for help, causing a number of neighbors to flood the streets. They were trapped. He was an important man even while still alive, so they were all very protective of him. They formed a circle, so that there was nowhere for the three of them to go. There was nowhere for them to go...except through another dimension. Seeing no other choice, Treasure took a deep breath, and then she screamed.

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