Monday, August 22, 2011

Land Leave 12

The plaque on the Pioneer spacecraft. It is a basic pictoral diagram that describes our location and appearance.

Land Leave 12

The Eve was in orbit around Ares II with the 9 ships of the AmU fleet. The captain watched as repair ships tacked on makeshift patches. He thought about the news. The spy had been found, and the secret revealed. The cost was enormous: a war, the fracturing of the AmU fleet, and almost certainly the captain's rank stripped from him. He had gambled on the cube's value, now it sat pulsating slowly in the holding bay, doing nothing.

The captain knew that all transmissions between worlds could be cut-off; supplies and signals. They would be starved out. The captain didn't want to wait that long, but what was he going to do? Before the fleet could prepare for battle, they would be destroyed one by one as they exited the black hole. They had little recourse and less time.

Sorensen entered the captain's office, “sir, I've been running scenarios and I'm not sure how to improve our chances. The East Io Company, for its rag-tag nature, has us bottlenecked. We can't pinhole through a different point because of the necessitated stability factors over that distance. We can't send more than one ship through the pinhole at a time, also because of stability. How are we going to get through this sir?” Sorensen had been very loyal to the captain, never steered wrong by any of his decisions, but this one seemed hopeless.

“You know why I keep my door unlocked all the time Ben?” The captain turned to Sorensen with an earnest expression. “I can't tell you how many times I have been stumped or just about ready to give up when something important bursts through that door. I don't believe in fate. I don't believe in mistakes either. We know from using wormholes that it is possible in theory to break causality; that things we hold to be immutable—aging, death, action and reaction—can be broken,” the captain looked through Sorensen, “have you ever pinholed without the aid of an organic computer?”

“No, too young for that.”

“Of course not. I guess I'm getting old now. I can remember when I was a pinhole cowboy. Follow me on this, I'm not just reminiscing. It was like running your hand over an entire beach and feeling all the footprints that had ever been there, every possible configuration that the grains of sand had or ever would have. But the linearity of the temporal dimension forces you to exit on the same track at about the same time; too much distortion and the waves roll in kicking and swirling the sand. That's what the life was like. It was truly the edge, once we lost the entire outer hull of our port-side,” the captain took a deep breath.

“That time was the closest I've ever come to death; actually, I experienced it. For a moment, our stabilizing field dropped and I became one with the universe, I felt every atom that had been in my body, and every one that ever would. I felt me as a child, and me as an old man; then I felt all of my atoms as they degraded slowly over trillions of years into eternity,” the captain suddenly looked as if he had aged twenty years.

“And I felt this moment here with you Ben. I felt this moment as a turning point. It felt like sasquatch stomped on the beach. I couldn't ever decipher it fully; three things were important though: ensigns Tan and Rojas, you, and the fact that we lived. I broke causality in that moment, perceived the radical nature of the temporal dimension, and came back from a death lasting trillions of years,” the captain's expression relaxed, a peace came over him.

“But sir, how are we going to--” Sorensen was interrupted by Bill bursting through the door. The captain gave Sorensen a knowing look. Sorensen smiled and shrugged.

The captain turned to Bill, “what is it ensign?”

“The computers finished deciphering the square. We can now read all the writing. James is recording everything and transferring the data straight to the computers.”

“Well ensign, don't keep me in suspense. What's the verdict?” The captain noticed Sorensen lean forward with anticipation.

“It's a history. It's a library. It might even be a weapon.” Bill was short of breath, his excitement had outpaced his inhalations, “pull up the direct translations on your screen, I had the computers make a raw feed and an indirect rough English translation.”

The captain smiled as he pulled up the screens, then he realized something, “where's Dr. Kelvin?”

“I couldn't pull her away from the screen, she was taking notes in a blur,” Bill noticed that the captain was engulfed in what he was reading, “let me see what you are looking at. This is the square; I like to call it the Rosetta. It started with geometric shapes and mathematical formulas. Things that described their universe. Look here, it describes the expansion of the universe and basic atomic particles.”

The captain stared at the raw translations, this was a language far different from English, “2 star round. Down oval constant life,” he read aloud.

“It means that this came from a binary star system. There was a time of constant equilibrium, approximately 2.5 billion earth years where life evolved. The organisms were nitrogen based.” Bill paused, “beyond that the description is difficult. It starts to get into the life forms and how their society was structured. But all those concepts are fairly abstract given our complete lack of common ground.” Bill took over, “here is the bit you want. It describes the cube's function. The grooves are commands; the cube is a giant library made after the 'murder' of the star.”

“I thought you said they were in a binary system?” The captain was puzzled.

“Right, the smaller of the two stars was sucked into the larger. It was metaphorical murder, a play on their concept of integration; kind of a math joke—at least I think it is.”

Sorensen got it suddenly, “so Bacchi thought this library, or key as it translates here, was a weapon because the binary system collapsed at the time of its creation,” he said, “I'd call him stupid if this language wasn't so hard to decipher.”

“Right, but this cube is actually a big repository. When the little collapsed in on the big, the energy released was sufficient to destroy the planet. But the process took millions of years. By the time this civilization arose, the planet was already subject to severe solar storms. They knew the end was coming. According to this, the cubes have everything in them,” Bill explained.

“What is everything?” The captain asked.

“Well, I opened the cube by touching the writing. The writing on the walls activate programs on the cube. We have only to decipher them to use them,” Bill got up and headed for the door, “and that's it for what we've deciphered.”

“Thank you ensign,” the captain felt calm, “wait, you said cubes.”

Bill was at the door, “well yes. See, the squares go with the cube—keys to the bigger keys. There are a ton of cubes too; nearly indestructible and containing an entire civilization's knowledge. But the keys are keys for the even bigger key; at least if their math humor is right.”

“What's that son?” The captain felt a sinking feeling, this was the moment everything would change.

“A square is two-dimensional, a cube is three-dimensional, and I suppose the biggest key is four dimensional; so sir, I guess the big key is stuck in time.”