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       The Darwinian Extension: Transition, p.1
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The Darwinian Extension: Transition
The Darwinian Extension: Transition

  Copyright 2009 by Hylton Smith

  Hylton Smith

  Prologue

  The year 2038 was a difficult time for Earth civilisation, and the Council for Human Exploration in particular. It was over two years since the return of Copernicus from the first Mars colonisation mission. The return of that crew together with the first known extraterrestrial life form had created mayhem, raising challenges to government morals, religious beliefs and unbridled technical development. The first casualty had been the Confederation of Nations, a capitalist alliance, which had spearheaded the conservation of the planet and the colonisation initiative. The life form known as Alex 2 had returned with Copernicus and was a replicant of Alex Redgrave, one of Copernicus’ crew.

  The replication had taken place on Mars when samples of red crystals had turned to an amorphous form and contacted Redgrave’s skin, then his bloodstream. The replicant was highly intelligent and explained his origin as being an instrument of the Progenitors, who or which resided in dark matter. Apparently their raison d’etre was to maintain balance in the Cosmos with particular emphasis on the forces of dark energy. This contest between gravitational and expansion forces was crucial to the survival of everything. The Progenitors had seeded the cosmos with many such life forms which could potentially assist their objective. The red crystal which replicated Redgrave was one such example – it was known as the Continuance. Others were the Interference, the Amalgamation, the Elimination and the Subtraction.

  Being primarily inorganic and composed of data cells as opposed to biological cells, Alex 2 had no need for most of the organic processes of humans. His data processing and retrieval were incredibly advanced, and he had made it clear to the human race on his arrival with the Copernicus crew, that the way of the Progenitors was not to be proactive in assisting species develop their potential. Encouragement of promise was the guiding principle. The view was also extremely long term – for example the period on Earth from single cell life to the present was considered insignificant. He needed no respiratory function, could withstand radiation, could regenerate damaged cells quickly and did not require glycogen powered musculature. He could withstand wide extremes of temperature as long as there was changing data interaction, so he was perfectly suited to the rigours of space travel. This also made him a source of interest to less scrupulous humans with their particular agenda.

  Alex 2 had suggested humanity would not survive the nova of the Sun if their physiology remained one of haphazard biological mutation controlled by the environment. He described the need for a Darwinian Extension – a conscious adaptation of the species. He also said the accidental replication on Mars was typical of the Progenitors approach, insofar as it required certain promise from a species in order for the discovery and implications to be realised. The Continuance had interacted with many species already throughout the Cosmos, some more promising than humanity.

  A concurrent development with these events had been the attempts of the United States of Arabia, via Iranian sponsorship, to discredit the Confederation’s motives in their relative emphasis on conservation and colonisation programmes. The USAr maintained that the underlying objective of the Confederation was to maintain the powerbase in the big four – namely China, India, Russia and USA.

  However, various acts of sabotage to discredit and slow down the Mars project had been perpetrated by the USAr. These acts were to cause loss of confidence rather than loss of life, and Redgrave had been their presence on the mission. He had been instructed to eventually commit suicide on Mars to destabilise the programme. This he did after being identified as the saboteur. Earth investigations had, with the help of Alex 2, uncovered sub-agendas of the USAr to delay the benefits of the colonisation drive until they had joined the big players, with the attendant benefits.

  Alex 2 had revealed this duplicitous, divisive political blindsiding of the species. It was not a surprise but, when delivered with the impact of a non-human who was totally neutral, it became the first step to a change of political system and a departure from consumer driven trends. The seeds of a meritocracy were sown. This development was accompanied by Alex 2 declaring that he would readily submit to reversion to his crystalline (harmless) form if that was the wish of the species. He said he would then be ‘in hibernation’ until new promise emerged either from humans or another species. He concluded with a phrase that would become all too familiar – ‘it is really up to you to decide.’

  As part of the formation of the new order, the Council for Human Exploration was formed and the Chief Executive was Roberto Xiang, former Mission Controller of the Copernicus and Darwin Mars programmes. Alex 2 was nominated Symbolic Leader because of his knowledge and his life expectancy of billions of years. This continuity was important.

  In the time since this ‘silent revolution’ the difference between ideology and practicality had manifestly provided challenges to the new order and particularly to Alex 2. His perspective of having been on Mars for billions of years was difficult to bridge with human concerns about tomorrow. Sweeping away the corrupt is sometimes easier than reconstructing the trust.

  Conservation was being addressed but proving cumbersome. The prospect of replacing ‘Humanity’ with inorganic efficiency sounded logical when considering how we escape our solar system but is not without fear in the near term. The replicant technology, although admirable, did not require or offer procreation in its ultimate aim or form, and this was creating mass protest from many quarters, not just religious leaders. There was evidence of organised crime investment in searching for these red crystals which were apparently seeded on Earth as well as Mars.

  To offset these thorny issues somewhat, the technical progress on antimatter propulsion, medical breakthrough in curbing rejection of medical implants, and the merging of science disciplines of chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology by Alex 2, in a new view of the Cosmos was impressive.

  Chapter 1

  Aquamarine crystals had been prised from West Candor Chasm on Mars at the same time as the red replicant ones - which had been dubbed Scarlet O’Hara. Samples had been retained on Mars, the rest were in Beijing. The entire Beijing inventory of Martian samples had been quarantined for some considerable time after the inception of the new order on Earth. However, before the resumption of their evaluation on Earth, the remaining replicants on Mars had not been so idle.

  A total of fifteen replicants (or Symbiants), as they had been renamed, because of their benign nature, had continued the forestation programme of Valles Marineris. They had also built huge protective domes from designer plants – replicated with Scarlet O’Hara multiple times, until data plateaux resulted and the amorphous form reverted to an inert and highly protective crystalline shell. The plants inside the domes generated oxygen and through controlled mixing with carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere produced a breathable environment when humans entered.

  These Symbiants were comprised of two from Copernicus crew and thirteen from Darwin. Pascal 2 was the first generation Symbiant from Pascal Dupree, the Medical Officer of Copernicus. He was directing operations merely because he had witnessed more of the short history with humans than the others, including Redgrave’s suicide. He had requested and received agreement to analyse the duplicate samples on Mars to those transported to Earth. There was no perceived risk to the Symbiants and the knowledge potential needed to be explored.

  Most of the results were unremarkable but one observation stood out to Pascal 2 before the analyses began. All geological samples except one had been recovered from random deposits in the chasm. The Aquamarine crystals were prised from regular shaped lodes which were themselves dist
ributed at regular intervals at only one side of the chasm. Initial instrumental data did not indicate unknown elements or bonding patterns but extraction with lasers showed the material to be luminescent. This was new insofar as the extraction by humans had relied on a drillbot remotely operated deep down in the chasm, which was circa 5 miles deep, and hence the camera had not picked up this characteristic. The Symbiants had descended into the chasm and observed the glow in close up.

  Red was the second Symbiant of Alex Redgrave (Alex 2 being the first) and as such had assimilated his data core. Redgrave, being responsible for geological analysis had already outlined the main constituents of these crystals before his death, but Pascal 2’s recent observation caused Red to investigate further. In trawling the databases he noted a similarity in composition with a synthesised Earth product. Polycyclodiborazane had been formed by organometallic polycondensation in the first decade of the 21st century and although it was a brown powder it was luminescent with incident energy at 414 nanometres wavelength. This caused Red to use the tuneable cutting laser to other wavelengths than the original setting, and the effect on the Aquamarine crystal mother lode was significant in his view but mind-blowing to Earth scientists.

  As he approached 633 nanometres wavelength the glow was very strong in general but there were flecks throughout the crystal which appeared unresponsive. It was a few minutes before Red realised that there was uniformity in these flecks, both in distribution and shape. There was a distinct order to the layout, so he checked the next mother lode and the next and found exactly the same picture. He also noted that this occurred wherever he focused the laser on the crystal surface, indicating some kind of circuitry. Red discussed this with Pascal 2 and they agreed that this was not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Even with their massive ‘computing’ power they initially found it difficult to make much sense of the ‘symbols’. However the breakthrough came from something which seemed rather obvious once discovered. The regular shape of each mother lode was that of a parabola. The ‘symbols’ turned out to be values from a specific parabolic curve.

  The crystal itself was layered and considerable magnification revealed alternate layers of thick blue-green material separated by ultra-thin colourless deposit. Isolation of the two enabled Red to subject each to the laser at 633 nanometres. The blue-green crystalline layer glowed brightly and the light generated was perfectly matched to the hue of the crystal’s natural colour. The thin colourless layer was unaffected except for the discrete areas of the symbols which darkened when the laser was applied.

  The mother lodes were giant visual display units. Red contacted Xiang in Beijing and requested him to date his samples as the Martian lab equipment did not include this facility as yet. Red confirmed that he would pursue decoding this new ‘language.’

  This discovery added considerable momentum to the burgeoning disquiet on Earth. It also occurred to the Symbiants in both locations that in the billions of years the Continuance had been on Mars there was no reference data to explain any of this. When the age of components of the crystals was determined at around 3.2 billion years it did not really help confirm the growing belief that the authors of the symbols must be relatively recent. However Red had made a breakthrough. The symbols each had an ‘x’ and ‘y’ value from the parabola and therefore unlike most Earth languages had a limitless ‘alphabet.’ It could be argued that Terran pictographs provided a form of open ended expansion capability. Red had observed that the values within the 10% closest to the null point (where x and y had the same value of zero) were symbols used for referencing or as headers. The remaining 90% of values contained dialogue or subject matter.

  This particular parabola had only plus values for x, but both plus and minus for y. There was also frequent use of reciprocals together, such as, x = 1.7 y = 0.3 with x = 1.7 y = -0.3 He determined this signified the end of one topic and the start of another.

  As Earth’s population were glued to update reports from Red on this code breaking, the shock wave hit everywhere simultaneously. The message left by these entities was clear. Red had decided to refer to them as the Rabo because over 90% of their use of symbols related to values in the middle section of the pa-RABO-la. The message was pinpointed to 2.8 million years ago and contained references to life forms on Earth with rudiments of intelligence. They had not interfered with this emerging organic broth nor left evidence of their own presence, choosing instead to construct the screens on a virtually uninhabited Mars for possible future discovery. The activation of the screens was programmed to signal the ‘Rabo’. Red could not yet determine what mechanism was to be used or whether it was still operational. What it did show was that some species had managed to cross interstellar space a long time ago. They were from the region of the 55 Cancri System; over 40 light years from Earth. Their homeworld was under threat from gravitational shifts of three gas giants and they had been nomads for many ‘cycles’ after leaving their origin. There was no mention of any settlements but there was quite a catalogue of unsuitable locations. There was no description of themselves, as to metabolism, but there were ‘holographic’ images within the Martian screens in which the landscape was very different to the present. There were a lot of ice sheets between volcanic sites. There were several ‘mechanical’ looking devices in the images of the screens, but it was not clear whether they were representative of the machines which erected the VDUs or the Rabo themselves. The dating of the crystal components could mean they were on Mars when the Rabo arrived or they brought the embedded technology with them.

  It was unanimously agreed that searching should begin in the surrounding regions of Valles Marineris for further evidence of their presence. Red had made one further discovery. His initial assumption that the parabolic screens were all the same was not quite accurate. They were constructed in an identical fashion and contained the same message, but each one had a construction date within the message. There were fifty-five altogether, some in better condition than others. The third was the one from which the Earth and Martian samples had been taken. That was constructed fifty-five years after the second and one hundred and ten years after the first. The same interval prevailed through the rest.

  Chapter 2

  The discovery of the past and possible continuing existence of a species which had traversed star systems catapulted propulsion research to the highest priority.

  “Daniel, Xiang here. I’m sorry this is such short notice but we need to make a concrete decision on which technology to employ in our next major mission. In view of the implications resulting from the discovery of the “Rabo” as Red refers to them, we will revisit Mars rather than attempt an unmanned foray outside the solar system.”

  Daniel Cavalho and his Symbiant – Dan - together with the ex-Commander of the Darwin – Anatoly Rebrov, were responsible for heading up this considerable effort. The Symbiant was as usual, acting as a reference point more than a developer of ideas, and thus helped in avoiding research culs-de-sac. Carvalho was both frustrated and excited at this news. “The workings of committees never cease to amaze me Roberto. We are at an important branch in our research and have been requesting more resource for over a year, then wham, we are asked to rely on educated guessing. We will brief you as to what is potentially our best choice with the usual caveats. When do you want to meet?”

  “Now,” was the response.

  “You mean today?”

  “I’m afraid so, it’s to be a manned mission, but we also need to deliver equipment for the Symbiants to be able to maintain the terraforming programmes. Last but not least Alex 2 has some ideas on these Martian screens which he and Red believe may be important. He wants to discuss this with you.” Carvalho said he would be there within the hour.

  The existence of antimatter had been confirmed for many years and indeed small quantities produced. “That is the easy part,” Dan had said, “controlling its power is going to be the next challenge.” He was understating how bumpy the road would be. Despite this they had
made progress. Antiproton traps had seen a paradigm shift in late 2037 and Dan had confirmed that using antimatter as an initiator of nuclear pulse production, proposed at the end of the first decade of this century, had the potential to get spacecraft to the Oort cloud, about a third of the way to the nearest star to the Sun. The nuclear pulse production released gamma rays and kinetic energy. Production of antiprotons also gave rise to dangerous gamma rays. A switch to positrons at least produced lower energy gamma rays. Dan indicated they needed to investigate how part of the kinetic energy released could respond to secondary interaction prior to creation of thrust. He also stressed that marginalisation of the unwanted gamma rays would be a priority.

  This approach of minimising the amount of antimatter needed, the excellent storage and handling of those antiprotons or positrons, and repeatable two-stage thrust management had led to prototypes ready for proving tests. That test had now arrived, but a little too soon. However this would, if successful, eliminate the need to be overly concerned about the relative distance between the planets and herald a Mars shuttle.

  Carvalho had matured appreciably since his time as Engineer on the Copernicus. He wanted this command. He did not yet know that he had already been selected. They needed someone with Mars experience, who had worked with the Symbiants, and with a strong engineering background. There was also the small matter of possibly returning to Earth as the only human crew member.

  When they met face to face it was a special reunion, they had not been in each other’s company since the emotional return of Copernicus. Those memories flooded back for the two humans and they kidded Alex 2 that he was also showing signs of nostalgia.

  Alex 2 was first to get to the official business. “Red and I have considered why these giant screens have manufacturing intervals of fifty-five years, and whether it is a coincidence that the builders are from the 55 Cancri system. Our database, at the time of our ‘hibernation’ on Mars did not include the materials employed in the giant VDUs. Therefore we can, at present, only speculate as to the origin of the components. We are not comfortable with speculation. The following alternatives would appear to be possible. If the dating is accurate at 3.2 billion years, they could have developed or arrived on Mars after our regression to crystal. If they developed or arrived by impact we would expect there to be other deposits. If they arrived with the constructors there is less probability of other deposits. Red has widened the search area and not found any more as yet. If we then consider the fifty-five year construction interval we also have alternate possibilities. The builders could have remained on Mars during the entire period, some three thousand years or more. Did they consume the entire quantity and stop building, or did they import the materials from some other location? What we do avail of in our database is signatures of similar materials in this sector of the galaxy but please bear in mind this information has not been updated since our regression on Mars. We know that the species left their 55 Cancri home because of impending cataclysmic events, so it is unlikely they returned. It is also what humans would call ‘intriguing’ that the distance from Mars to the nearest source of the materials we have identified, is one which would require a travel period of twenty-seven to twenty-eight years with a propulsion system much more advanced than has yet been developed by humans. The round trip of about fifty-five years is interesting. Red has also determined that only the core constituents needed to be imported for further reaction to yield the final composite layers of the screens, so the transportation loads were feasible for a spacecraft. Probability analysis suggests that the species in question may have had various outposts and existed in the prevailing Martian climate for a considerable time around 2.8 million years ago. The probability values are not strong, but outweigh the other scenarios we have checked. It is therefore important that we search Mars for more evidence of their civilisation, and possibly shift our first extra solar system mission to the source of the material signature where they may have also left valuable data.”

 
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