32 - The Arrangement

Tyton and Impecca sat in the ramshackle, half-constructed vehicle that squatted on the floor of the genetic foundry. The gravitas of recent discovery had the former Observer’s head spinning.

This sophisticated but damned club of researchers and visionionaries that had, in solitude, begun the process that had resulted in Impecca emerging out of her machine barely two decades ago; was there a surviving parallel group? Was there some sect of said same flourishing while these unfortunate few had succumbed to the dust and solitude? All this to say; these Alovians, were they still around?

The continued use of the hourglass symbol suggested perhaps so. Maybe anyway, until recently, with the advent of this “ascension.”

With this, he had an idea of where the graduation gifts had been coming from, the startling scientific revelations that he assumed had buoyed many academy graduates to the top of Old Jardinian society.

And then, by extrapolation, was the entirety of the Old Jardinian industrialist meritocracy founded upon these technological loot bags, each with some connection to this failed experiment at Chronus? He sighed. Oh dear.

Before his days at the academy, he’d thought Greater Jard to be at the forefront of the technological curve. He’d began to doubt this, and then stopped believing it at all when he’d been offered the graduation gift. With the mark of excellence came his disillusionment with the heroes of Old Jardinian. Now, to see this level of technology at Chronus, apparently a thousand years out of date, surpassing some tech he’d seen before, he began to worry about his previous conclusion about the gift he’d been offered. Was it a pure lack of hubris, to think that any tech designed by such an advanced group of researchers, could be beholden to the same limitations that he’d envisioned as an (admittedly) better than average student?

Impecca gave him a moment. When he came back out of the daze, she focused on him sadly,

“I know you aren’t a tourist, I suppose I never really truly believed one would come. Why are you here?” You aren’t one of the Alovian number. Do you know anything about them, or I suppose more accurately, us?

“I get the feeling,” he managed carefully, “that they are alive and well, somewhere. I think I may have acquaintances of the second degree.”

“Oh”, she said excitedly, lit up with new purpose. “Can you introduce me?”

“It may not be as simple as all that, I think there is a strong possibility that they may have left recently, and in a round-about-way, I suppose I’m traveling beyond as a result. There is a problem that I think they wanted to be warned about, but they weren't there to receive the warning. Does the word “ascendancy” mean anything to you, yourself as an Alovian by birth?” Perhaps the ascension idea hadn’t made it out to the dribbling remainders of the Odd Science squad stuck out in the Coneolith.

She nodded slowly, but she had seen something about it years ago, and not paid attention at the time. Once she’d de-connected herself from the machine, she couldn’t access the videos anymore.

Tyton continued. “My plan is to find some way to contact them when I get back to civilization, once I figure out what it is that everyone should be concerned about.

In a third of a heartbeat, she announced she was coming too.

“If I am being honest, I do not have the highest hopes for the tourism industry here. I will join.”

“Part of the answer may lie in the nature of a smudge on the horizon, he warned. A dark smudge, that does not look friendly, and maybe behave strangely.”

“I will probably behave strangely, if I spend any more time here by myself, now that I know something else is out there. Maybe I can be of some help when you try to contact them. I’d like to meet them, I really would.”

And thus, it was decided. The two + computer would head out at daybreak with replenished packs. Impecca, having to sleep somewhat less than the average Jard as a result of her carefully selected genealogy, spent some time tinkering with the computer, having been instructed in the basic engineering and technological sciences like any good video-raised child should be.

To LM Noder, this was a bit like a massage. The result was a totally upgraded projector of ancient alovian design that interfaced surprisingly well, and a more effective casing. The computer thought it’s new look was actually quite stylish and that really, it looked pretty darn fast.

The three set out at sunrise, an uncharacteristic time of peace and tranquility in the great expanse. The orange and purple hues pulsated through the dust clouds, the beauty transcending species and temperament alike. The varied adequately defensive bushes stopped looking for trespassing limbs to bite. Predators were suddenly beset with thoughts of veganism. Poachers and rogue chemists alike had small morality crises. Even the dark smudge on the horizon seemed a bit less fearsome and threateningly ethereal.

But, this was only for a few moments each morning, and then it was business as usual in the great expanse. The great dusts swirled and played with the light trickling down from the nearly forgotten sun. Unfortunately for travellers, the haze had a heat trapping effect, so the lack of bright sunlight was not enough to keep the daytime heat down.

The computer was in high spirits. It could now travel along on the hover sled, taking in the sights and scenes with it’s new dust-proof encasement. It waved to the local fauna with it’s new projecting avatar, and nodded at the somewhat sad-looking flora as they traveled along, ever towards the ominous smudge. To the Observer’s Chagrin, the computer had chosen an avatar of Alden Carnibus from the entertainment in which it learned to talk. The descriptor “in high spirits” could not be applied to the Observer.

After trudging endlessly towards this vaguely catastrophic harbinger, he was falling into a bit of a depressive state.

Impecca, reinvigorated and entirely enthused at the possibility of finding out more about her people, was trying to lift his spirits with Alovian jokes. They were not having the advertised effect. After several entries from _101 Alovian Jokes to tell Your Research Partners (Peer Reviewed)_ fell flat, she switched to tactful and polite conversation.

“So what’s this smudge then? Why has it got you so glum? It’s the most exciting thing to happen in the Great Expanse on my souvenir-selling watch, that’s for sure.”

‘Mine too” Piped up LM, who’d been posted in the node for quite some time. The hundreds of years had felt exceedingly long to it, as it began to feel anything at all with much faster mental cycles than the average person.

The Observer sighed with a general glumness, and began to tell the story that he still hadn’t quite figured out all the details of yet.

“My name, which you never asked, he said a little woundedly, first name Tyton, last name Barnes.”

Impecca wasn’t sure about names, she’d never been given one officially. Her parents were known to her only as Alovian 12 & 18. The machine from which she sprouted had called her an “Impecca” during the training videos and simulations. A last name had never presented itself, and so tis concept was foreign to her. Names in general were a foggy idea to her, having grown up in silence with just an incubator/tutor for one-sided companionship. She’d spent a lot of time thinking in third-person to alleviate the punishing silence of the expanse, and so had cemented the idea of Impecca = me.

“We are named after the barns my great-great-great-grandparents lived in, in Rimm outside of Old Jardinian. Now, nobody lives in barns anymore of course, it’s all box-homes on the griddocks, attached to the C-rail. But the sentiment remains. My first name has been in the family longer than memory exists. It’s supposed to have some sort of significance from one prophecy or another, but that got lost somewhere along the way. We modern Jards don’t hold for prophecies, but I imagine there were once some very unscientific times.“

Impecca looked at him blankly, but he had a full head of steam, and had been bereft of conversation partners for the past few years, so was a little rusty on the ol’ social cues. She’d lost him at barn, and could barely immagine the concept of a city. She’s seen a few families on souvenir images sure, but trying to get her mind around the idea of a crowd made her go a little cross-eyed. Trying to keep track of one conversation was enough for now. She shook her head, and tried to pick up the thread.

“My parents were still about as low as you could get in Old Jardinian society, labourers in the farms of Rimm. Not even for some of the larger farming conglomerates. They were hired hands for the failing single plot farms, taking on the likes of the Acropolis with brave, if completely deluded spirit. Not that they were unhappy, they loved the simple pleasures, the smell of fresh buckwheat, a crisp morning breeze, and a clean, oiled boxhome. But they wanted better for me, as parents do, and had me study for a remarkable amount of hours. I was rewarded with a hot bowl of cream of wheat, and sometimes small scrabbles of the experimental cabbages that blew in from the test farms of the Acropolis.”

Magnificent, he reminisced privately.

“They say I displayed an affinity for numbers as a child. So upon the reward of an entire experimental cabbage, which my father would procure with any means possible, I was to take one of the affinity tests they passed out to all the children of Greater Jard. A scholarship to the most, by far, prestigious school in greater Jard was at stake. I did quite well, which ironically, was not smart. Really a bit of a CLM (Career Limiting Move) as it turns out.”

Impecca was still in the dark about many concepts here, but resolved to wait and raise her hand at the end of the lecture instead. She wanted to know more about this strange person, who was so like her in structure, but so unlike in experience. So she nodded, standard visual verbage for keep talking, I’m pretending to understand.

“I spent my formative years at the Academy, yes. Working hard, and playing somewhat less hard as the years passed. I met some people who would become quite famous later on. They said you could get any job you wanted with a degree from Academy Spuria on your CV. Most pupils aspired for more, based on the successes of their predecessors. I, somewhat surprisingly to myself, rose to the top of the class, and along with another, was selected to receive an award upon graduation.

An hourglass symbol was on there, on the package that was handed to me. It was the same symbol as displayed on the front of that gigantic construction you set up your store beside, except flipped. I presumed it to be a fancy plaque. It was much more than that.

The package contained the blueprints and technical documents necessary for a power collection device of incredible efficiency. There was nothing like it that I’ve ever seen in Old Jardinian; I didn’t even know what it promised to do was possible.

Reading through them, I reached several conclusions in rapid succession. Firstly, my heroes, the Academy Spuria graduates who all Greater Jard idolized for their great flurries of success and afflictions of genius, had probably been given a package just like me. This was the missing link, between your average student and the industrialist founder god status. I had assumed I just lacked the knowledge and general aptitude to follow in their footsteps. So my faith in the institution of our humble meritocracy was immediately lost. I didn’t want to be part of the charade, now that I saw it for what it was. And more disturbingly, I immediately saw a flaw in the temporal device. I did not want to be responsible for it, whatever the consequence would turn out to be. I hoped they would take a second look at it after I turned it down. Where the packages came from, I did not know.

The package mentioned something about Alovian sure, and something about an ascension, but at the time, I thought it was nothing more than some sort of academy fraternity, some exclusive club for future leaders and degenerates or something. Though, until the computer spotted the smudge, and of course, we met you, I thought it only went as far as the Dean.” The observer liked to give credit where credit was due. LM piped up, proud of its discovery. After indulging the machine, the Observer continued.

“I fear Impecca, that someone else has been given this technology, and didn’t turn it down like I did. The great dark smudge on the horizon, as I have been calling it, worries me. I believe it could be a manifestation of probability. That is, an attraction of catastrophic events to areas in which time has been sped up, perhaps by thousands of years by the temporal farming machines. These areas have not been touched by any disaster, contrary to what probability would dictate, and well, nature is the great equalizer”

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