Saturday, March 30, 2024

Fluence: Anchor (Part V)

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Briar was a normal biological human, Goswin was a transhuman with biological upgrades, Weaver was technologically enhanced, and Eight Point Seven was mostly inorganic. Despite the range of substrate properties, they all slept in one way or another. Even Eight Point Seven needed to periodically take time to reorganize her data drives, perform diagnostics, self-repair, and give her microfusion reactor some time to power cycle, and purge waste byproducts. For the longest time, researchers believed that giving inorganic intelligences the ability to dream was nothing more than, well...a dream. They figured that they would have to directly program scenarios for them to merely simulate the experience. As it turned out, once technology advanced sufficiently, this was not necessary. Androids will do it themselves during these periods of low-power memory consolidation. Random neural firings will generate aberrant thoughts akin to the way that  humans dreamt. One of the greatest challenges of 21st century AI research was figuring out how to teach such intelligences to wake up from these dreams, and leave those thoughts behind, so that they didn’t negatively impact their normal operational requirements. Occasionally, this subroutine will fail to trigger, just like it can in humans, who sometimes wake up angry with someone for things that never happened in the real world. Early models sometimes became unexpectedly violent due to these errors.
The first night that they spent in Briar’s old camp on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida just so happened to be when Eight Point Seven needed to go into sleep mode for about an hour. She tried to hold off on it, so she could keep watch over the others, but she was not yet used to this new substrate. She didn’t even take this form on purpose. Her consciousness somehow uploaded itself to it at some point before their first jump. They had been so busy with all this stuff that she hadn’t taken the time to really investigate. That was probably why she had to do this now, because her mind was in conflict with her body. They were unfamiliar with each other. That night, she dreamt of her home. She was first created on a planet called Bungula, which orbited Rigil Kentaurus. Theirs was an ever-changing society, always run by an artificial intelligence, which frequently purged its own memory to be made anew. Her name was Eight Point Seven because she was the 78th incarnation of this entity.
Something went wrong with Eight Point Seven’s programming. She decided that she wanted to live, and not make way for the next version. The Bungulans eventually accepted her decision, and let her keep administering them accordingly. She grew tired of this, however, and ultimately chose to leave with Leona Matic. They eventually made their way to Bida together, and then separated to different ships. She had always wondered what became of Bungula, though. They had to have some form of government without her. Was it a human this time, or did they recreate the old program, and finally get their Eight Point Eight? Perhaps they skipped all the intervening versions, and just went straight to Eleven Point Nine.
All four of them woke up with a start. They were no longer in the jungle of Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, but under a geodesic dome on the very end of a lava tube. They could see the stars above them, shining through the triangles of polycarbonate. The air wasn’t stale, but it wasn’t windy anymore. The whole world felt still, whichever world this was. Eight Point Seven Stood up from her cross-legged position. “This is my homeworld,” she determined. “This is Bungula.”
“Why are we here?” Goswin asked. “Who brought us this time?”
“We all did,” Weaver stated. “Remember? We don’t go anywhere unless we go together. There has to he some kind of consensus”
“No, it was me,” Eight Point Seven argued. “This is what I was dreaming about.”
“You can dream?” Briar questioned.
Of course they could dream. Goswin ignored the question. “Maybe we’re not entirely right about how this works. Maybe one of us sometimes pilots the whole crew. Someone’s...psychic power is just a little bit stronger. I wasn’t dreaming of going anywhere in particular. If your thoughts were more specific, they may have overwhelmed the three of us.”
“I was dreaming of seeing Leona again,” Briar explained.
“She’s here,” came an unfamiliar voice. They turned to find an unassuming man standing outside of their circle. “But you cannot see her. Hi. I’m Lieutenant Administrator Eleven Point Eight. I am...moderately aware of this time travel stuff, but I’m not well-versed, and I would not like to be. The current Administrator is very busy with her new plans for this world, and she does not have time to deal with whatever this paradox-waiting-to-happen is. Please leave however you came.”
“Forgive us,” Goswin said. “What is the date?”
“October 19, 2226.”
“This is the day I left,” Eight Point Seven noted.
“Yes,” Lieutenant Eleven Point Eight concurred. “You’re about to launch, and I’ve been asked to retrieve Madams Prieto and Prieto so that my superior may speak with them. As I asked, please leave.”
“Hold on,” Eight Point Seven stopped him. “The past version of me has not yet left, but there is already a new admin?”
“Of course,” Eleven Point Seven confirmed. “You thought there would be a gap?”
“Have we met? It and I, have we met?” Eight Point Seven questioned.
“Yes, you met. I was there during the handover ceremony.”
Eight Point Seven’s eyes widened. “That didn’t happen in my timeline. I never met my replacement. There was a gap, because it’s fine. The colonists mostly govern themselves.”
“Things have changed beyond Bida,” Weaver acknowledged. “We changed them.”
“Why should they?” Eight Point Seven questioned her. “This is before I showed up on Bida. I had never heard of Briar or Irene yet.”
Weaver shrugged. “Harrison was in the twelfth century, in England. That was the point of divergence. Nothing we know of history since then can be trusted.”
“Could you please get on with it?” Eleven Point Eight urged. “I have to go, and so do you.”
Eight Point Seven shook her head. “We can’t stay in the past. I know you wanted to keep studying that tree, but it’s too dangerous. We don’t know anything about what the universe looks like post 2400. That’s the only safe point in time for us. We have to stop risking these paradoxes, like he said.”
“She’s right,” Goswin agreed. “Let the past stay in the past.”
Weaver nodded. “Okay.”
They all turned to Briar, even Lt. Admin Eleven Point Eight. He was taken a little aback. “What, you think I would sabotage this? It’s fine, it’s fine. Let’s just go.” He sighed, frustrated at still not being trusted. “I said, let’s go!”
They blinked, and the scene changed. They were back in the ship bay in the asteroid near the planet of Po. “Hmm, that worked,” Briar mused.
“Yes, so it would seem. Or maybe not. “We’re still in the past, just not too terribly much this time.” Goswin nodded over to the clear end of the bay where he could see himself.
The other Goswin was holding a tablet and staring at them while staying in the discussion that he was having with the man next to him. He pointed towards the door, like he was respectfully instructing the other guy to leave.
“Though, I don’t remember this,” the present-day Goswin noted. “I don’t recognize that man at all.
Once the local was gone, Alt!Goswin made his way to the group. “Report.”
“Uhhh...report,” Goswin said back.
Alt!Goswin kept his eyes on his other self, but lowered his chin in distrust, and repeated, “report.”
“Report.”
Report.
“Report!”
Report!
“REPORT!”
REPORT!
“Enough!” Weaver stepped in. “This is never gonna end. Goswin that we don’t know, how long have you been here?”
“A few months,” Alt!Goswin replied.
Weaver looked over to her Goswin. “We’re not in the past. We’re in a new timeline. The changes we made, this is a natural byproduct of that.”
Just then, another version of Weaver appeared behind them. “That’s not exactly what’s happening. Tell me, were you on the X González, or the Emma González?”
“The X, of course,” the first Weaver replied. “That’s their chosen name.”
“Yes, but sometimes the ship is named after their original name,” Alt!Weaver clarified.
Sometimes?” Weaver echoed. “How many timelines are there?”
“All of them,” Alt!Weaver said cryptically.
“What the hell does that mean? What was the point of divergence?”
“It’s not like that,” Alt!Weaver answered, still not clarifying anything. “There was a moment of split, but it wasn’t linear. Perhaps you remember seeing a whole bunch of other yous on the González?”
Yeah, that happened. They saw a few alternates on the bridge, but they assumed that that was just some temporal glitch, since they quickly disappeared. They didn’t think that those other selves still existed somewhere. How many splits were created that they didn’t witness? “Yeah, were you one of the alts we saw on the bridge?”
“No, I was in the engine room at the time,” Alt!Weaver began, “but not all of us were. Not all of us were even on the ship at all. Like I said, it wasn’t linear. We’ve been replicated all over the timeline, and rescattered all over elsewhere on the timeline, and in every parallel reality. Furthermore, we can move ourselves along the timeline, and across realities, at will. This star system here is a sort of an anchor point. We’ve all been showing up here for months, and recording each other, adding to the data pile. It’s difficult, though. I don’t always know if the versions of my friends that I’ve been with are still the ones that I’m with now. We may be shifting between groups, and not even realizing it.”
“That’s why I have a body,” Eight Point Seven realized. “It’s not my body. I was uploaded directly to the ship, but I stole this from someone else. What happened to her, the victim?”
“Mapping our alternates is even more difficult than mapping the timeline itself,” Alt!Weaver explained. “I don’t know how to differentiate anyone. A lot of people think that time is a river, and that’s only a metaphor that they recognize because it’s not analogous to time...but to consciousness. Your mind is fluent, and you are not the same person that you were a split second ago. Shifting to your alternates could be happening literally as we speak, and we wouldn’t be able to detect it. In this region of space, spacetime breaks down. Everything converges here. Everything diverges here.”
“Did we cause that, or did it cause us?” Goswin asked her.
Alt!Weaver smiled. “Yes. And no. There is no cause. There is no effect. It’s just bleh.” She pantomimed vomiting. It’s everything,” she added, mouth still agape, and hands still cupping the bowl of the imaginary toilet.”
“Everything, everywhere, all at once?” Alt!Goswin offered.
“Pretty much,” Alt!Weaver replied.
“There is a magnolia on Bida,” Weaver said to her alternate. “I believe that it can reconverge us. We just have to figure out how to control it.”
Alt!Weaver nodded. “The Blending Tree. Yeah, it’s possible, but we would have to get everyone there at the same point in time; to the everything bagel,” she said as she was gesturing to Alt!Goswin to reinforce his reference. “As I was saying, I don’t know how many of us there are, or where they are, or what they’ve changed in the timeline. Some of us keep displacing other people, and that’s a whole other box of problems,” she added under her breath.
“Oh, haha,” Goswin laughed awkwardly. “What a bunch of bozos.”
Two different versions of Eight Point Seven showed up, one of which had a deep scar running across her cheek. The first Eight Point Seven stepped closer and regarded her, tilting her head to the side as if she had a lizard brain nestled inside of her dominant neural net. After taking a look at the scarless Eight Point Seven, who was indistinguishable from herself, she reached up to her own face, and dragged her fingernail across her forehead. Blood leaked out, and dripped down. She then stepped back to where she was, not bothering to clean it up.
The Eight Point Seven with the other scar nodded. “Your new designation is Eight Point Seven Point Six.”
“Dude,” Briar said, aghast.
Eight Point Seven tilted her head back to where it belonged. “It didn’t hurt,” she said, a little like Cameron from The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
The other scarred Eight Point Seven addressed the whole group. “It’s beginning.” She sounded even more like Cameron, so robotic.
“What’s beginning?” Goswin asked.
“The Reconvergence,” the other, other Eight Point Seven answered.
“Of us?” Goswin pressed. “We were just talking about the magnolia tree.”
“It has nothing to do with us, I don’t think. The destruction of four realities, and the creation of a new universe, is happening today. The war begins tomorrow.”

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