At Por's raised hands, those still talking hushed. Por wore the crown. And though she didn't have the face paint, and was weighted with the heavy royal robes, and though her hair was in braids, not the elaborate knots she favored, she was very obviously Por. Her mannerisms had changed again, shifting cues from Aezthena to human. From Dayaran masculine to feminine.
"Aezthena," Edin hissed. "This is a deception. What have you done with Governor Por?"
"I'm right here, Edin. Please. Sit. I will explain all I can."
"I should hope so," Ijuka said, their voice like ice.
Por looked their way, and Ijuka drew back, though to their credit, they held Por's gaze.
Anais barely chanced a breath, afraid it would shatter the silence.
"Ser Governor," a guard called. "Should we escort these people from the room?" They sounded unsure. How did anyone escort an Aezthena if they didn't want to go? And Por, as Barenin, had clearly demonstrated earlier that she was Aezthena.
Ijuka made a quelling gesture. "No. Thank you, no. I want to hear this out." But they didn't tell the guards to fully stand down.
Around the room, guards and governors alike shifted in agitation, a circle of movements centered around Por. And around Anais, though he had become tangential in the intense focus on Por. That, at least, allowed him to breathe. And knowing that Por could blink them out of this if she had to—at least, he hoped she could.
Por's hand brushed his as she sat back down. Again that reassurance, though her emotions in her human focus were muted.
"Thank you, Governor," Por said formally, and waited as the others returned to their seats, however uneasily, before she spoke again. She did not take off the crown.
"For centuries, the Aezthena have watched your world. I have watched it for centuries. Because of your religion, the Kaireyeh tech you make is unique, and though we have found ways to incorporate your tech in some of our own advances, we've never been able to see to the heart of how most of it works, or build it for ourselves. You can imagine, for an Aezthena, how infuriating that might be. That a world of humans has gained mastery of Kaireyeh that they, a race built from Kaireyeh and built to use it, don't have. I came here nine years ago because Aezthena interest in your world has intensified. I've personally protected this world for more than eighty years, since just after the time of your last contract king. That Aezthena king brought back technology from you that pushed several factions of Aezthena in a direction that could be disastrous for humans. And I didn't understand why until you explained just now, Ijuka, the difference between Kaireyeh and Yfeni."
Ijuka looked baffled. "But if you've been here all this time—if you are really Por—then how could you not know that?"
Por held up her palms. "Because I made the mistake of integrating with you as a Dayaran. I could only compare my view of Kaireyeh with your view of Yfeni, and I thought, from my perspective, they were the same. I've read all of your holy books. They agree with much of my own philosophy. But your language and concepts did not solidify for me until you used them with my concept of Kaireyeh in tandem. Aezthena process information in different ways than humans. There are some facts that we can deduce from the barest data, and some that will take an extremely unique perspective for us to grasp."
"Why is this important?" Edin asked. Their face, even beneath the heavy paint, had gone a shade of gray. Sweat stood out on their high brow. "Why—beyond the factor of more advanced technology—should this matter to the Aezthena? We make generators. You make generators. It's all the same tech at its heart." But they didn't sound convinced of their own argument. Were they finally understanding just how much danger was in their association with an Aezthena? That Sela definitely didn't have their best interest at heart? Or had they suspected all along, and thought it worth the risk of realizing their plans for a utopia?
Anais decided he'd never want to live in a province that Edin governed. They might be an idealist, but they were also an idiot, and willfully ignorant.
"No," Por said, "it's not the same. Aezthena Kaireyeh tech is based on our absolute knowledge that the universe and all its branches are sentient, but our universe is at the core of that sentience. The brain of the body, if you will. But Yfeni tech as I now understand it is based on the sentience of the entire multiverse. The body as an intelligent whole, no part more important than the others. As you said, all possibilities from all perspectives, not just one."
Beside Por, Anais regained enough of his composure to start rapidly running theories and numbers through his memory implant. He had studied advanced Kaireyeh theories—as much as one could study theories of using the source code of a sentient universe—and he just followed, barely, the differences Por was talking about. He ran back through what Por had said the night before, about several factions of Aezthena wanting to become more separate from humanity. And he thought about the exact moment Barenin had shifted from surety to fear. It was when Ijuka had said the word "multiverse."
Most human Kaireyeh theories centered on Kaireyeh being one universe with infinite possible fluctuations within it—different timelines, different branches of possibilities, etc—but always with a constant center. An immutable baseline universe from which all possibilities branched. When ships traveled using Kaireyeh engines—something banned a long time ago, but which smugglers and some less-resource-rich worlds still used—the travel didn't obey any kind of normal physical laws. Flows of Kaireyeh could stretch travel time for the travelers and shrink it for the rest of the universe, or the other way around, depending on the variables put into the engines. Even that method was not exact. The best guesses were that small pocket possibilities were created and discarded with every trip through Kaireyeh. It's what Barenin did whenever she parted the fabric of spacetime and blinked herself from one place to another. It's what she did when she created a bubble of slowed or sped-up time. The way Kaireyeh functioned might never change, but Kaireyeh itself was always changing.
But with the Dayarans' concept of Yfeni, if he understood it correctly, they didn't view the universe as one continuous sentient program constantly writing patches for itself, but as an infinite multitude of programs that formed one continuous intelligence. Not a universe of infinite possibilities, but a true, uncentered multiverse.
It was almost the same thing. Almost.
And the Aezthena wanted this tech, badly. If they'd hired Anais to get it out, and if Sela had also come for her own reasons, other Aezthena knew or suspected what Barenin was just understanding now. And those Aezthena's goals were to separate themselves from humanity.
"Fuck," Anais said. Were the Aezthena going to try and split humans and Aezthena into separate universes? Or maybe create a pocket universe all for themselves, like what was created when a ship traveled through Kaireyeh—except with the concept of Yfeni and the math that followed, maybe it was possible to make a permanent pocket universe.
"Yes," Por agreed. "Fuck."
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