Saturday, October 16, 2021

Extremus: Year 14

If they wanted to avoid a paradox, Omega and Valencia knew that they couldn’t just fly Old Man’s time machine back to Old Man’s time period, and find out what happened to him. They didn’t want to use any ship resources either. Those materials are cataloged in detail, and recorded carefully as they’re used. So they chose to dismantle the shuttle, and build a new one, of a different design. It would still be capable of everything the original was, but be programmed differently enough to prevent anyone from seeing a resemblance, should it ever come to that. It was a long process, but necessary, and almost finished. They didn’t melt any of the metal down, but they reworked it well enough. If they had, they never would have noticed something very small in a hidden compartment. No, it wasn’t even a compartment, but a ventilation pipe that would only find its use when the ship was within a breathable atmosphere.
“What is this?” Omega asks. “It looks important.” It looks like an ink pen, but the slight vibration coming from it suggests that it’s a powered device, probably from a fusion nanoreactor. It’s also somewhat cold; cooler than room temperature anyway. Lastly, taped to it is a note reading PROOF.
Valencia examines it. “Looks like more writing right there, but it’s too small. Can you zoom in?”
“You can’t?” Omega jokes. He takes it back, knowing she doesn’t have the technological upgrades that he does. He zooms into the text. “Model number Zealotry-Castaway-Plaintiff-00256.”
Valencia input the number into the database to see if they would get a hit. “It’s a prezygotic cryopen.”
“I’m not sure what that means.”
“Well, there are a number of ways to make a long journey to a distant world. You can be generational, like Extremus. You can be ageless, like the two of us. Or you can store people. That usually means stasis, but it can also mean early developmental cryopreservation.”
“That I am familiar with,” Omega says. He was originally cloned from Saxon Parker in order to stay posted on a modular transgalactic ship for Project Stargate, which would install an outpost in every star system in the galaxy. A secret secondary mission called Operation Starseed was created in order to create life on some of the planets. Omega’s mandate was to maintain one of these modules, making sure the power sources stayed in working order, and the seed plates were not damaged.
“No, yours were different. Yours contained genetic material, which could be configured to generate new life. This pen contains one egg, and one sperm sample. When thawed and activated, they should combine, and begin forming an embryo. As far as I am aware, we only keep fully fertilized embryos in the Bridger Section as a backup plan in case the rest of the ship fails the mission. I’m not sure where this pen came from, but Old Man probably didn’t create it himself. This model number places the patent in the year 2266. It probably came from here. We definitely need to talk to the Captain.”
After bringing this to Halan’s attention, the three of them head for the executive infirmary, where Dr. Holmes is sitting at her desk.
“Ima, what can you tell us about this?” Halan asks her.
She takes the cryopen, and looks over the information that Valencia has pulled from it already. She checks her own computer as well. “It’s one of ours. Why did you take it out?”
“How do you know it’s ours?” Halan asks.
“The serial number found a match. It’s in the Bridger Section with the others.”
“I thought we only had embryos down there,” Valencia repeats herself from earlier.
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Dr. Holmes puns. “We don’t even have only one Bridger Section. We use cleaved embryos, zygotes, prezygotes, eggs, sperm, blood samples, and digital DNA. That’s in addition to our stasis volunteers, the Bridgers themselves, the generational passengers, and even non-breeders, like me.” She doesn’t mention this, but there’s also a probe, which houses a repository of knowledge from both vonearthan and Ansutahan legacies, should all life ultimately be extinguished, so maybe aliens a million years from now can learn about who they were.
“So Old Man took this from wherever it belongs,” Halan begins, “and takes it with him to the recall button destination.”
“I don’t think so,” Omega reasons. “He didn’t wanna go, remember? He probably spent all the time he could trying to figure out how to stop it from spiriting him away, and the rest of the short time available packing survival equipment.”
“Plus, that pen had the word proof taped to it,” Valencia adds. “Someone else took it, and Old Man was bringing it back to prove to us what they did.”
“Bronach Oaksent,” Halan realizes. “He’s the one responsible for the shadow group in our midst. We were operating on the assumption that he was working with Old Man, but maybe that’s not true. This evidence would seem to suggest that they were at odds. He was trying to get back to Extremus so he could show us what Oaksent had done.”
“What does he want, this Oaksent guy?” Dr. Holmes questions.
“An army,” Valencia guesses. She picks the cryopen back up. “If I’m right, this is not the only one missing. He probably took many more, and Old Man could only get one back, or only thought he would need the one. The people Oaksent has on this ship are probably only a fraction of the people at his disposal. With enough time, he could foster an entire race of followers to worship him. We know Old Man built a time machine, and installed it on the Elder Shuttle, but who’s to say that’s the only one.” She waves the pen around like an amateur orchestra conductor. “Get one hundred and forty-seven of these, and you have enough to support your plans for galactic domination. The entire Milky Way could be populated with his people, and we just haven’t met them yet, because they’re from the future, so they know where to hide.”
“This is all speculation,” Halan wants to make sure they know. “We don’t know if Oaksent took the pen, or how many.”
“There’s a way to find out,” Omega interrupts.
“I’m not letting you into the Bridger section,” Halan says. “Assuming he did take the pens, and any other samples, we don’t know what he did with them, or how much time he’s had to do it.”
“Which is why we need more information,” Omega says. “Now it’s more important than ever for Valencia and me to go on our mission.”
Halan was never really all that excited about them doing that. He stands there for a moment, hoping to come to some kind of epiphany. There must be a better way to get the information they need. Or maybe there’s not, because he can’t think of one. “Is the time shuttle ready?”
“That depends,” Valencia says. “Can we survive in it, and go back in time? Do we have enough power to pull that off? Absolutely. The cloak isn’t ready, though.”
“The what?”
“Invisibility cloak,” Omega continues. “It will never be ready. It’s impossible.”
“We’ve seen it done,” Valencia argues. “Historical records show...”
Omega dismissed her future words. “They show that individuals can render themselves invisible by manipulating spacetime, which superimposes everything in the background into the foreground. That does not help us against advanced sensors, which Old Man and Oaksent would definitely have.”
“I can make it work,” Valencia contends. “I just need time to find a way to fool the sensors too, by warping their signals around the shuttle.”
“You don’t think someone on The Shortlist would have figured that out by the time we departed?” The Shortlist is a special council of people who have proven themselves capable of inventing extremely advanced time technology. Whenever someone reaches a certain level of understanding of temporal physics, they’re recruited into the council, so they can join in all decisions about what they’re going to do with said technology. The internal systems of the Extremus are powered by fusion reactors, and propulsion is powered by a matter-antimatter reaction. Both of these are Earthan inventions, and the design of the ship itself is Ansutahan, but just about everything else they use here was sourced from someone on the Shortlist. The reframe engine, anti-gravity, local teleportation, even the life support system, are all major examples.
Valencia shakes her head. “No one has ever tried to work on that, because Earth doesn’t have any space enemies!”
“It’s not just for enemies. Such a cloak would allow time travelers to move about freely without fear of being caught, and disrupting the spacetime continuum. Where have I heard of that before? Oh, that’s right, that’s what we’re trying to do! You think we’re the first people who want to go back in time without anyone being able to see us?”
She’s still shaking her head. “With a shuttle like the one we have, against people who are paranoid about something like that happening? Maybe we are the first.”
“It can’t be done,” Omega insists. “There is no stealth in space. There never has been, and there never will be. Everything gives off heat, and you have to do something with that heat.”
“Why don’t you just shunt it to another dimension?” Dr. Holmes offers.
“That’s what I said,” Valencia agrees.
“Okay,” Omega begins to admit. “I’ll concede that that is a viable option for regular time travelers. But like I said, Old Man knows about parallel dimensions. We can’t be sure he hasn’t built them a dimensional energy detector. It’s not that hard. I saw whispers of the idea in his notes. At least that’s the conclusion I came to when I translated certain parts of his notes.”
“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” Valencia says. “We’re better off trying.”
Now Omega shakes his head. “An invisibility cloak detector would sense our proximity if it’s on, even if we’re also hiding behind an asteroid. It’s much safer to assume they can see us, and use traditional methods of avoiding detection.”
“Wait,” Captain Yenant finally interjects. “I just realized something.”
“The shuttle is a time machine, right?” Halan states the obvious.
Omega squints, suspicious of him. “Where are you going with this?”
“If you left in a year, you could still go back to 2272, and the power requirements will increase negligibly, correct?”
“Of course,” Omega says, “but the longer we wait to embark on the mission, the probability that something will interfere with our ability to finally get around to it goes up. You might decide to wait until next week to buy yourself a bike helmet, knowing that the cycling store will still exist when the day comes, but what if you get hit by a bus the next day? You will wish you had gone to the store today.”
“I’m willing to risk it,” Halan determines. “Keep working on the space cloak. You have one year. If you haven’t succeeded by then, you’ll do without it. I don’t want to take away your chance of keeping this a secret.” He turns away.
“This is a mistake,” Omega complains.
“Then we’ll go back in time and undo it,” he sort of jokes.
“Where are you going?” Omega asks.
“To the Bridger section. I’m going to count the cryopens myself.”

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