A few years later
“…and that completes the Super Quadrat for this period.” The young woman pauses, presumably to allow the assembled board to digest the information, but within fractions of a second your response is ready and you rise to your feet.
“So what it looks like you’re saying is that, in practical terms, almost all of our competitors are ahead on mass-market deployments. Is it because they aren’t following our rules, or because they’ve got better technology.” You address the question at the room, but none of the other directors seem to want to engage with it. As the only other person standing, expectation starts flowing towards the young woman (recent MIT graduate, fast stream, very promising, your brain fills in), and she gives an answer.
“Mostly the former, but enough of the latter to be worth thinking about.”
“Right then”, you say, “get a hold of everything we can and start taking it apart.” You sense a certain amount of discomfort from some in the room, but you’re ready for this one.
“As long as we don’t start making them ourselves we’re still within the Foundation’s rules. And besides, when one of these start-ups makes a horrible mistake everyone will look to us for an answer, even though it won’t be our fault. Look” - and here you start gesturing for effect - “ we’re an ethical company. But we’re the best at this, and it’s our duty to keep abreast of all developments in the area, to leave no frontier unexplored. Does anyone disagree with me?”. You glance around the table. Some discomfort remains, but you know that your argument is too good for them - those that don’t out and out approve anyway. Assent is nodded.
People start packing up papers and moving away. The young woman comes up to you.
“Should I prepare a briefing note for Dr. Vista and the Foundation?”.
“No. This is an internal R&D matter. It doesn’t fall within their remit”.
A conversation at the speed of thought. Not even really a conversation - something far purer, an exchange of ideas and meaning. Your mind mingling with the assembled refugees from the Other Office, information flowing into your consciousness as you probe for it.
They have searched. They have not found what you are looking for. Well. Not as such.
There must be more worlds. There are three that have been witnessed, one now gone. They exist on a fabric. Somewhere on the fabric there must surely be something else. But not here. Not within reach of their probing. Well. Not as such.
There is something. Something both familiar and alien. A light in the darkness. A metaphor almost entirely inappropriate, but the closest description that can be given, even to your elevated consciousness. A path. A suggestion of a path. A guiding light. A beacon. An flickering of intent and invitation. Out there, in the fabric.
Can we go there. No. Well. Not as such. Maybe.
A soul could be sent, it is thought. Plans for a device whir through your perception. Excised from this world. Sent out into the fabric. Sent towards the light. Is it safe? Uncertain. Could they return? No. Well. Not as such. Maybe. That would depend on the light.
You retreat from the shared space, and almost automatically begin transcribing the information that was transmitted to you. The plans for the device are extensive currently, but you’re certain that once the lab have had a few rounds with it, it will be much cleaner and elegant.
Now the question is where you’re going to get a volunteer.
Many years later
The phones are dead. There are usually very few people on the penthouse floor, but you suddenly realise that you’re all alone. You reach out for a signal, a network, anything, and with a jolt you realise that there’s nothing, simply nothing - the last messages received being a sudden rush of errors and alarms about your backups can contingencies. There’s a strange haze in the air - almost damp? No matter, there’s only really one possibility, at this point.
You are not surprised when the elevator arrives, nor, really, at who comes out. Indigo, and two people in suits, one who you’re familiar with without, you believe, ever knowing their real name. The last person is simply someone with a gun.
You don’t bother getting up from your desk. Why would you? They move towards you. The haze, you believe, is emanating from a device discreetly attached to Indigo’s belt. They hesitate in front of your desk, seemingly waiting for you to fill the silence. When you don’t oblige, Indigo shrugs and says:
“I’m sorry Clark. You’ve left me no choice”.
There was a choice, of course. A choice to embrace ambition and the fullest potential of what could be done, rather than shying away from it. A chance to bring immortality to the world in five years and not fifty. No matter. Really, truly, those choices were made a long time ago.
The man in the suit seems compelled to fill the silence.
“It was a pleasure working with you, Mr. Pinion. Unfortunately, public opinion has swayed to a point where we can no longer influence it. Something must be done. I’m sorry that you can’t see that.”. You’d never made the mistake of trusting the man, of course. Global conspiracies don’t foster fidelity. You did think he shared your vision though. A pity.
Both seem to want you to say something, anything, to validate their decisions. You don’t oblige. A few awkward seconds pass, before Indigo nods to the man with the gun.
You reach out one last time for any escape route, any bolt hole to which you can send your consciousness, but there are none. Given time, your people could surely have found a workaround for Indigo’s new toy, this signal blocking haze, but she always was one step ahead of them. With no other option, you send an impulse to the necklace you are wearing, and as you hear a gun flash everything goes dark.
You never did find that volunteer. Later, as she reviews the security footage, Indigo will wonder with concern why your body began to fall fractions of a second before the bullets hit it.
In the darkness there are points of light. The distances between them would be indescribably vast were they not simply indescribable. For almost all of them that is true. Yet one, just one, is moving, and soon it shall meet another.