The question of whether to murder one species of sapients individuals in order to save another wasn’t one that any of Jen’s teachers had ever posed to her, and even if they had she suspected they would have missed the wrinkle where one of the species was also a bio-engineered weapon designed to eliminate all life on a planet.
“We’re going to save them,” she said, plans turning in her mind like the clockwork designs she’d built her arms around.
“Them who?” Bogoroa asked. Body language varied across cultures but Jen was fairly certain that Bogoroa’s expression indicated the same sort of surprise any of the Earthlings she was familiar with would have experienced.
“All of them,” she said. “The former prisoners. The nano-soldiers. And the people of both our worlds.”
“Not all patients can be saved,” Bogoroa said. “It’s one of the guideposts which even our newest apprentices are taught to accept.”
“That’s understandable,” Jen said. “In this case though, choosing to execute one species to save the rest would work directly against what we’re trying to achieve.”
Sarah and Connie nodded in agreement, allowing Jen to speak for the both of them.
“I thought you were hoping to protect your world from a global scale biological attack?” Bogoroa said.
“That’s the immediate concern. Only preventing this attack however doesn’t address the overall problem though.”
“And what would that be?” The ghost of a smile graced Bogoroa’s lips, as though the questions were leading a pleasing direction for the Telidees physician.
Jen smiled in return. It was nice to work with people who played the game a few steps beyond the present moment. Sarah and Jen could usually keep up with her, and keeping up with Anna was always a challenge, but in Bogoroa Jen found someone who always seemed to be in synch with where her thoughts were going.
In one sense that left the questions Bogoroa asked feeling like a test. Bogoroa’s people had spend time and effort working out the ramifications of scenarios that were too fantastic for Earthly philosophers to give serious consideration to. Even in cases where there were no ‘right’ answers, the Physicians Guild was at least fully aware of the choices they were making. In that light, Jen’s answers were less important in terms of the absolute correctness (which might be impossible with subjective issues) and better measured based on how well she could show she’d managed to grasp the complexities of the situation.
“The problem beyond the immediate attack is that we have an enemy who is capable of, and willing to, launch an attack in the first place,” she said. “Eliminating these people because they’ve been made into weapons does nothing to prevent other people from being subjected to the same process and a second attack from being launched.”
Bogoroa nodded. It was obvious larger issue to contend with, and addressing it opened the next obvious question.
“How do you plan to meet this larger threat?”
“War is the typical answer,” Jen said. “Destroy your enemy before they destroy you, but that’s not what we’re going to do either.”
“It’s a poor use of resources,” Jen said.
“You mean your weapons have better targets to be used against?” Bogoroa asked, without disapproval, but Jen knew that was leading towards the sort of answers the Telidees had walked away from.
“Not our weapons,” Jen said. “Our people. And theirs. There’s too much that needs to be done, and too far that we need to go. To create a better future than today we need as many people as we can get working on it together.”
“You would save them in order to subjugate them with gratitude then?” Bogoroa asked.
“No. People don’t work like that. We’ve seen that from our history too often,” Jen said. “Working together takes work. It takes finding common goals, and bringing interests together. Sometimes it means fighting, and sometimes it means compromising. The thing is you can’t do any of that with dead people. Dead enemies may not be opposing you anymore but they can also never show you where your ideas are wrong, or be convinced that your ideas are right.”
“And it’s not just dead enemies that we’d make in a war,” Connie said, chiming as the conversation swept her up. “I wrecked a city in saving your patients, but I could have as easily destroyed it and still gotten the people out that I had to. If I’d done that though, a lot of people who were opposed to what the Pure One’s leadership was doing would have been killed. And a lot of people who had no idea what was going on. And people who supported their rulers but didn’t really understand what their rulers were doing beyond a basic idea of ‘defending them from enemies’. None of those people need to be our enemies, and none of them deserved to die.”
“That leaves you with a larger problem to deal with however,” Bogoroa said.
“It’s even bigger than that,” Jen said.
“Bigger than converting two races from enemies to allies?” Bogoroa asked.
“Yes,” Jen said. “The Pure Ones aren’t the only realm which is unhappy with our policy of offering sanctuary to those in need, regardless of where they come from.”
“I must confess, that did strike us as poking a particularly ornery nest of trouble,” Bogoroa said. “I wouldn’t guess from your behavior though that your species is particularly intent on self-destruction?”
“Oh, there are days…” Connie said.
“We have a conflicting history when it comes to how we treat each other,” Jen said. “We’ve made some strides forward, and fallen back just as often it feels.”
“That was our experience as well, or I should say is our experience,” Bogoroa said. “Even a little bit of forward motion over a long enough time can yield worthwhile results though.”
“That’s the next broader level we’re looking at,” Jen said. “This crisis is a chance to show ourselves and anyone else who’s looking that we can find better answers than what people might imagine would be available.”
“But first you must resolve the issue with the Nano-Soldiers as you call them,” Bogoroa said.
“I have an idea for that,” Sarah said. Jen had wondered when she would join the conversation. She’d had a distracted look that said she was considering some other angle of the problem which Jen hadn’t wanted to interrupt.
“Will you require our aid?” Bogoroa asked.
“If you’re offering it, then yes, I think we will,” Sarah said.
“What’s your idea?” Connie asked.
“You’ve got the patients in a timelock, right?” Sarah asked. “Can you handle some spatial manipulation as well?”
“Within certain limits, yes,” Bogoroa said. “The more we adapt the space around them though, the more difficult it will be to maintain the timelock, and the failure mode for the timelock is not graceful.”
“That should work out fine,” Sarah said. “My idea is less about the space around them and more the space inside them.”
“You wish us to open a pathway so that you can peer inside the patients?” Bogoroa asked.
“Not look inside them. Go inside them,” Sarah said. “The people we need to talk to have been shrunk down to a microscopic level. If we want to work things out with them, we’re going to need to meet them at a scale they can relate too.”
“Is that going to work?” Jen asked, several complication arising in her mind.
“In theory? Sure,” Sarah said. “Bending space isn’t intrinsically harder than bending time. Though I suppose to do both at once and in different, unconnected directions is pretty challenging.”
“How challenging?” Connie asked.
“Tam would probably ask James and me for help,” Sarah said.
“Oh. That kind of challenging.” Connie gulped, looking a bit paler than she had a moment earlier. Assaulting an alien prison on her own was one thing. Tangling with a magic spell so advanced that Tam would ask for help in casting it was a whole other level of peril.
“We are capable of doing what you require,” Bogoroa said, “But there are other issues involved than the mere spellwork involved.”
“Right,” Sarah agreed. “We’ll need to bring our own time with us, or we’ll wind up just as timelocked as they are.”
“That will present still further challenges with the spatial spells,” Bogoroa said. “I will request the service of the Deep Exploration Guild for that. They are familiar enough with medical timelocks and have more experience with esoteric spatial magics than my staff.”
“I don’t know if magic will be able to help us with the primary problem we’re likely to run into though,” Jen said as her mind furiously chewed away at the puzzle in front of her.
“Yeah, that’s why I think we all need to go in on this one,” Sarah said. Her grimace was apologetic but somehow reassuring too. She wouldn’t have asked for their help if she didn’t think it was necessary but she also wouldn’t have asked for it if she knew the mission was doomed to failure.
“What can we do to help?” Connie asked, color returning to her face and confidence to her voice. Being needed helped a lot when it came to pushing aside worries, at least in this case.
“We’re going to need to get shrunk down and shot into one of the patients,” Sarah said. “Their frozen in time, so we’ll have to carry a bubble of our own, external time, with us so that we can remain unfrozen. To talk to any of the Nano-Soldiers though we’re going to have to unfreeze them too.”
“And they’re not going to be too friendly are they?” Connie asked, seeing the problem.
“It may be worse that that,” Jen said. “None of them have been activated yet have they?”
“We do not believe so,” Bogoroa said. “Once the activation signal is given, they will begin destroying their host and dividing, replicating more of themselves in an exponential manner. Their only goals will be personal survival and the destruction of anything unlike themselves. We’ve seen a weapon like this deployed before.”
“What did you choose to do in that case?” Jen asked.
“It was over a millenia ago, so our options were more limited at the time, but in that case it didn’t matter,” Bogoroa said. “We weren’t there when the weapon was activated, we only saw the aftermath. We called the world we discovered Haelem’s Tomb once we understood what had happened to it. We didn’t know what name its natives had called it because they were gone. The targets of the weapon and its maker as well. Our archaeologists eventually discovered that they’d called it ‘Garden’ and so we spread as many different flora and fauna as we could there to honor their memory.”
“There wasn’t any contamination left from the plague?” Connie asked. “Or you were able to clean it up?”
“No, the plague was gone with its victims,” Bogoroa said. “It destroyed them all and then perished itself. That’s not underheard of for a microorganism without a host but our research showed that the plague was engineered to die off after a set time. Its makers simply hadn’t picked a short enough time frame to prevent it from killing them all.”
“That’s not going to be a problem for the Pure Ones, is it?” Connie said. “They planned to dump it on a whole other world.”
“The Nano-Soldiers seem to be close cousins to the weapons which laid waste to Haelem’s Tomb. They seem to contain the same safeguards,” Bogoroa said.
“Earth is a resource too, even without any Earthlings on it,” Jen said. “I’m sure anyone who’s thinking of wiping us out is well aware of the value an empty but material rich world could offer them.”
“So how do we keep the Nano-Soldiers from going into armageddon mode?” Connie asked. “Did your people have any luck finding a cure?”
“We never had the opportunity to study them further,” Bogoroa said.
“Well, I think you’re about to get a second chance at that,” Jen said as she exchanged glances with Connie and Sarah. There were nods all around. They were ‘Go’ for a fantastic voyage.