“We’re not physical beings, so we aren’t bound by physical laws. However we can interact with them.” Susan explained carefully. Polly looked blank, and Susan sighed. “We can control physical dimensions and time.”
“So, spacetime then,” Polly said. Susan shook her head.
“I don’t like the phrase. Lumping everything in together is a very basic way of viewing things. Time has certain fundamental differences to other dimensions in its handling and how most species natively interact with it.”
“Sorry?” Susan picked up a pencil and moved it back and forth in front of her.
“Take this object. We all move freely in three dimensions. Width.” She waved the pencil back and forward, “Depth” and she moved it up and down. “Height. In each case I can restore the object to its previous co-ordinates by my own action. But without the application of technology, I cannot return it to five seconds ago.”
“But you can do it?”
“With the right technology, yes.”
“But if you control time, how could there have been a war?” Polly asked, confused. “Unless Cet’s people can do the same thing?” She looked at Killgrace, who was leaning against the wall. He waited a moment, watching Susan, before he spoke.
“But unless you can counter them, how can you even start a war?” Polly asked, and was rewarded with a rare, quirked, smile from her boss. Obviously it thought the question was intelligent.
“By controlling something just as fundamental.” Polly frowned, confused.
“But I don’t understand. I mean,” she gathered herself, trying to think like a scientist. “Physical form is fundamental, isn’t it?”
“It is understandable you do not comprehend. Your science is only just beginning to explore this field,” Cet said, almost graciously. “We control force. There is only one force, the basis of all matter and energy, but at present your scientists divide it into four: the electro-magnetic force.” Cet held out his hand, palm upwards, and a can flew from the pile on the far side of the room into the space above his hand. “Gravity.” The can floated in mid-air, turning lazily. “The strong force.” The floating can compacted suddenly into a perfect sphere, shrinking as it did. “And the weak force.” Cet finished, as the ball exploded into vapour and was gone.
“But then, how could Susan’s people fight yours?” Polly asked, staring at the space above Cet’s still-outstretched hand. The alien looked at his secretary. Susan stood up and walked towards him. As she did, the perfect sphere reassembled itself out of nothing in the air above Cet’s hand. It uncompressed, resuming the perfect proportions of a can and she took it, opened it and poured the drink into a glass.
“One of the dimensions of space and time, is time,” she reminded Polly.
“So whatever they do, you can undo?”
“Within limits,” Susan said. “We can’t undo them themselves, or affect their history.”
“Or change us in any way,” Cet added.
“They can define what they are in base forces. We can’t affect them directly and our indirect control does not overcome their direct control.” Susan said. Polly looked a little blank. “Put bluntly our technology doesn’t work on them. We were limited to conventional weapons. The same was true, to a degree, for them with us.”
“But war like that would have been incredibly destructive.”
“That was why it was a proxy war,” Susan said, “We fought through others, equipping them to fight the war when they were attacked. The Cull had a massive numerical advantage. Even if we can’t truly die, the people we were protecting could, and if the Cull had identified us to attack us directly the war would have been lost.”
“You were successful,” Cet added. “Even at the end we did not identify what we were truly fighting. And neither side wanted to destroy resources.”
“We did not know that then,” Susan said in a rare moment of accord. Polly looked at the two old enemies, the possibilities of such a war running through her head. Suddenly her employers seemed far less human.
“Excuse me,” Polly said as her pager went off. Fascinating though it was, the wider worlds she glimpsed in their words were terrifying and she welcomed her pager buzzing, drawing her back to the every day world of meetings and schedules. She caught the lifeline to normality with both hands. “I have to deal with the ten o’clock delivery.”
Once Polly had gone, Susan looked at Cet and folded her arms. He looked back unfazed.
“So, Cet, demonstrating magnetism with an aluminium can, and the strong force using gravity?” she asked, amused.
“They are the same force.”
“A force you were supposed to be demonstrating acting in different ways.” Susan reminded him, with a pointed glance at her glass. Cet looked at it, and then back to her, rather stiffly.
“She would not have perceived strengthened molecular bonds,” it stated.
“So hit it with a hammer.”
“Unnecessary. Satisfactory understanding was obtained.”
“Through an unnecessary demonstration,” Susan said, but her half-smile made it clear she was teasing him. He thought for a moment.
“It was by way of a performance?”
“And a magician never reveals his tricks?” She chuckled. “You ham.” Cet looked at her drink and raised an eyebrow.
“And you?” She raised the coke in a quick theatrical toast, inclining her head.
“Guilty as charged.”