Saturday, March 2, 2024

Fluence: Saga (Part I)

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The date was November 21, 2259 by the Earthan calendar. The new crew of the X González starship just launched from the planet of Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida. Superpowered inventor, Holly ‘Weaver’ Blue; career government administrator, Goswin Montagne; and superintelligence, Eight Point Seven left friends both back on that world, as well as on another ship going in a different direction. Coming along with them was prisoner Briar de Vries, who was accused of, and admitted to, murder. The nature of his crime was too complicated to let him be processed through any standard judicial system in the stellar neighborhood. The crew didn’t know what they were going to do with him yet. The leadership of the planet where the incident occurred wanted him gone, so this was the best way to accomplish it. For now, he was being limited to his cabin.
They didn’t know where they were going either. They made a few jumps, but dropped down to drifting speed until they could decide on a vector, or at least a direction. There was no point in firing up the fractional engines until they had some clue what they were doing. They were still within the Tau Cetian heliosphere, watching the host star get smaller and smaller as they slipped farther away from it. Goswin and Weaver were doing this anyway. Eight Point Seven’s consciousness was uploaded into the ship’s systems itself, and Briar’s cabin did not have a viewport, nor was he going to be involved in the decision-making process.
“How far has the galaxy been colonized by now?” Goswin asked.
“To varying degrees,” Weaver began to answer, “Earth has begun to explore most systems within fifty light years. That’s the bubble of the stellar neighborhood, and Earth is going to be focused on that for a while. Of course, Gatewood has launched a set of modular ships that will spread across the entire galaxy, but it will be tens of thousands of years before that’s all over.”
“So that limits where we can practically go,” Goswin posed. “Unless, I suppose, if we want to go somewhere that no one has been before. That sounds boring, though. If there aren’t any people, it’s probably not all that interesting yet.”
“Mostly, you’re right.”
I have a suggestion,” Eight Point Seven announced through the speakers.
“What is it?” Weaver asked.
Thirteen and a half light years from here is Alpha Centauri B,” Eight Point Seven continued.
“Also known as Toliman,” Weaver added, nodding. “I’ve heard of it.”
Did you hear that it was destroyed?” Eight Point Seven asked her.
Weaver took a moment to respond. “No. Destroyed how?”
Unclear, but my guess would be a matter-antimatter annihilation.
“How would it be possible to annihilate an entire star?” Goswin questioned.
An antistar,” Eight Point Seven answered.
“If antistars exist,” Weaver started, “they’re nowhere near regular stars. The chances of one drifting close enough to hit Toliman before hitting something else are approaching zero.”
Maybe then it’s worth checking out?” Eight Point Seven offered.
Weaver sighed. “You’re the captain.”
“I am? Oh, I am. Well, that was...” Goswin had leadership skills, but did that make him qualified to captain a starship? It was a tiny little crew, with only a pilot and an engineer, so he didn’t feel much pressure taking it on as a role, but now a real decision had come up, so he needed to start thinking about what his job truly meant. “That does sound interesting. How far away did you say?”
“It’s 13.5 light years,” Weaver answered him. “It will take us 13.5 years to get there, but for us, it’ll feel like a week.”
“Eight Point Seven suggested it, which suggests that she’s in favor of it. I’m in favor of it. That leaves you, Weaver.”
“This isn’t a democracy,” she argued.
“I don’t see why it can’t be, at least for now. We’re not in any big hurry, are we? Let me make the decisions in the heat of the moment, but if everything’s okay, I’ll want to hear your respective opinions.”
Sounds fair to me,” Eight Point Seven agreed. She too had leadership experience, but has since retired, and she just wanted to fly the ship now.
“Very well. Let’s go to Toliman...or not, as it were.”
“Pilot,” Goswin said. “Lay in a course, and engage at maximum warp.”
Eight Point Seven laughed, and started the fractional engines.
A few days into the trip, everything was going fine. They had passed several light years already, and were on track to making their arbitrary deadline. The ship was perfect, running on its own, with Eight Point Seven only having to make a few minor course adjustments, and repairs from micrometeoroid strikes that the EM and TK fields were unable to handle. This was all about to change. The great thing about moving at extremely high fractional speeds is that you get to where you’re going much faster, but it does come with its downsides. First, those micrometeoroids can become a real problem if the power shielding and the hull fail. Secondly, you could encounter—or even pass—something without even realizing it. For the most part, space is empty. The chances of running into a celestial body are rather low, which is why it’s generally okay to move so quickly. There are some things that cannot be predicted, however, nor detected. Eight Point Seven processes information rapidly, and can see a lot beyond the doppler glow that blocks views from the ports, but even she isn’t omniscient.
Something came upon them; some kind of force, and they never saw what it was. Normally, the internal inertial dampeners would prevent them from feeling that the ship was even in motion. The humans would be splattered red against the walls if this safety feature didn’t exist, which was why the redundancies for the redundancies on all of these interstellar ships had multiple stages of redundancies on top of their redundant redundancies. It was the one thing that almost no one could survive. Even the loss of life support could be okay, as long as it was brief, and not too extreme. Even so, failures did happen, and it was what happened here. Fortunately, it was not as bad as it could have been. Everybody survived, but the humans were severely injured when the ship X González suddenly lurched to the side.
This was when weird things started to happen. As they were each trying to get back to their feet, they started to see other versions of themselves, standing, crouching, or lying in different places around the bridge. Even a few versions of Briar were there with them, when he should have been still locked up in his cabin. A nearby console would spontaneously transition from being whole to being damaged, and then back again. The lights changed colors, and the space around them warped and stretched to a point of infinity. Feelings of profound dread were met with feelings of elation, and even euphoria. At one point, the whole ship cracked in half, and then reassembled itself. Finally, after all this tumult, everything stopped, and they started to drift at normal subfractional speeds again.
“Eight Point Seven!” Goswin and Weaver cried at the same time. When the latter conceded to the former, he repeated himself, and went on, “Eight Point Seven, report!”
I...I don’t know,” Eight Point Seven admitted. “The data in my memory indicates conflicting information, including that the incident took place over the course of a few moments, that it took 141 years, and also that we’ve been gone for an eternity. I cannot rectify the discrepancies.
“All right, don’t worry about the past. Let’s just focus on our present circumstances. Can you find our location?”
We are roughly 135 light years from our original position. I’m afraid that I don’t have an exact number, due to an uncertainty regarding our starting point, but based on astronomical data, I can pinpoint our location at the outer edge of the Achernar system, also known as Alpha Eridani.
Goswin looked to Weaver for guidance, who shook her head. “Never heard of it. I’m an inventor, not an astronomer.”
“I don’t suppose it’s populated,” Goswin asked.
It appears to be,” Eight Point Seven answered.
“You mean, it appears to not be,” Goswin figured.
No,” Eight Point Seven insists. She turned the main viewscreen on to show them the star that they were approaching. It had been surrounded by a Dyson swarm. There were definitely intelligent entities here. How they managed to cross the vast distance in such a short amount of time was unclear. Then again, they didn’t quite know what year it was anyway.
“Do they see us?” Goswin pressed.
“Absolutely, they do,” Weaver replied.
“I’m receiving a message. Text only.” Eight Point Seven displayed the message on the screen. X González, please rendezvous with Intake at the below coordinates for debrief. Klaatu barada nikto. And then it provided the coordinates.
“They know who we are,” Goswin pointed out the obvious.
“Time travelers.” Weaver nodded. “The ship has no weapons, captain. I suggest we rendezvous, and I recommend we do so at subfractional speeds.”
“Do you know what those last three words mean?”
“No idea.”
It’s hard to know their intentions,” Eight Point Seven began, “but it’s a pop culture reference from the 20th and 21st centuries that could mean stand down.
“Uhh...” Goswin had been learning a lot about this ship, but at relativistic speeds, he had not had that much time with it. “Maximum subfractional to the coordinates, or whatever. Just...go as fast as possible while operating under the assumption that these people actually don’t know anything about time travel and teleportation.”
Understood.” Eight Point Seven piloted the ship into the asteroid, and docked where the lights indicated. The two humans stepped out, and approached a small group of other humans who were waiting for them on the pier. A man took a half step forward, and offered his hand. “Captain Montagne, my name is Intake Coordinator Pontus Flagger. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Parallel.”
“It seems you have us at a disadvantage,” Goswin responded. “We don’t know who you are, or what this parallel is.”
“You’ve heard of alternate timelines?” Pontus assumed.
Goswin was determined to remain cagey. “Maybe.”
Pontus smiled. “This is like an alternate timeline, except that it happens at the same time. It’s a parallel reality. There are other parallels, but ours was the first, so it earned the most on-the-nose title.”
“Do you know how we ended up here?” Weaver asked him.
Pontus started casually doing finger tuts with one hand. For the last movement, he slid his index finger horizontally, allowing a holographic screen to appear between them. It started to show them images from a very, very old TV show. “Do you recognize this?” he asked.
“It looks like something out of The Verge Saga, perhaps Crusaders?” This was a multiseries franchise that took place in a far away galaxy, a long time ago.
“That’s right,” Pontus confirmed. “The premise is that there is a single point in space at the center of the fictional galaxy where all interstellar travel meets. It doesn’t matter where you wanna go, you can only move in two directions; either towards the Verge, or away from it. This place is like that, except it’s not so unilateral. In a few months, people, objects, and even individual particles, will find themselves here. In addition to preparing for these arrivals, we’ve been studying the phenomenon for decades, trying to figure out what causes it, and whether it can be controlled. You appear to be some kind of vanguard. If you explain what happened before you arrived, it might help us understand. Perhaps you’re just early to the party, for whatever reason, or there’s a chance that you caused it.”
“You know who we are,” Goswin reminded him, “and the name of our ship.”
“Your story is a matter of historical record to us,” Pontus clarified. “It would be like you knowing who was on the boat that crossed the Delaware on Christmas 1776.”
“Do you also know who else is on our ship?” Goswin questioned.
Pontus waited a moment to respond. “Besides the pilot, we are aware that you are transporting some kind of prisoner, but we do not know who.”
Goswin looked over at Weaver, not for help navigating this situation, but because she may not approve of the direction that he wanted to take. He decided to make his first executive decision as the Captain. “Yes, we’re transporting him, because there is nothing else we can do for him. He is the man who killed Mateo Matic. If you’ve heard of us, I’m sure you’ve heard of him. To my knowledge, time travelers do not have any formal legal institution, and we believe that he would be unfit to stand trial within any court system in our...reality. Do you suppose someone here would be equipped to take this challenge on?”
Pontus did not expect this development, but he was showing signs of patience, as well as a hint of curiosity. “We have nothing like that here, and due to the nature of our research, we couldn’t install a Nexus for instantaneous interstellar travel. We would be willing to transport him elsewhere, but you should first learn how our legal system works. You may not be so keen on it if it’s sufficiently different from what you know.”
“Yeah, I think that would be best. Something should be done about him. He can’t stay in his cabin forever,” Goswin decided.
“Very well. Come with me.”

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