The Nexus Odyssey, p.11Hylton Smith
In the morning, the message was checked by Veltrano. The Nigerian contact had made it relatively easy for Koppelt; Martins’ own network was riddled with loyalty to oneself, generated by a high disappearance rate. Latest information led him to check out another name. Nasser Boughera was of interest, and a request was made to see if Redgrave knew of this man.
This was taken by the crew as a wakeup call to get off the fence. It was, together with Natalia’s sympathetic response to Carvalho’s stance, enough for him to abandon a lifelong trait and allow feelings to dominate logic. It was unanimous - the Earth was to experience an irreversible and humbling moment - it was not alone.
First Magnusson and Veltrano checked whether either Redgrave or Alex 2 recognised the name Boughera. Neither did, but the photo they had obtained from one of Martin’s most loyal henchmen, for a generous sum plus organised evaporation from the face of the planet, did seem familiar to Redgrave, but he could not remember details. Alex 2 had no such trouble with his superior filing system. “You know him as Fatim Ahmed, you met him at university and again just before your training for this mission – in Syria.”
“Yes, bloody hell, I think one of us needs a memory wipe.”
Magnusson agreed to Veltrano sending this information to Koppelt before the show. Alex 2 also had a request before ‘curtain up’. “It is likely at some point during their questioning that human physiology will be discussed and my knowledge at present is limited to input from Alex and Dr. Dupree. I know you want to hold back on allowing me interface with computer libraries in general, but strictly medical reference knowledge may help if I have to explain my own makeup compared to humans.”
It was a fair point. The jaw dropping experience for Dupree was that it took less than four minutes to access the entire database memory. He could not understand how even with the replicant’s abilities that he could extract data so fast from an infinitely inferior architecture. He was assured that it was one of many examples where Earth technology could be assisted by this symbiosis. The decision was as always down to them.
Magnusson had suggested that Xiang, Koppelt and the Committee attend the show. Whether they wanted to include a politician like Rabinowitz was their call. Without knowing what was to unfold Koppelt thought it better to have the option of editing what would be passed on.
The first pictures that Earth representatives saw on the transmission was what they took to be Redgrave, very carefully placing powder on to plants in numbered trays, the trays themselves being in a discrete closed environment. He spoke to them, explaining that this experiment was with the amorphous form of the red crystals and they would come back to look at the effects later. Magnusson then appeared and said he would like to introduce Alex Redgrave. They were obviously confused and there was some shrugging of shoulders, which stopped when the Commander did not point to the person who had just described the plant tests, but someone who walked into camera shot from the opposite side. The confusion turned to astonishment as the camera focus retreated to show the entire crew, killing the notion that this was some fancy dress party. There were eight people.
“This is Alex Redgrave; some of you have met him and spoken with him. This is someone who Redgrave will introduce in a moment, none of you have seen or spoken to him before. I would suggest you contain all urges to formulate questions until you have heard and seen the entire transmission. Over to you Redgrave.”
Alex Redgrave now sat next to his double and said he needed to refer back to the discussions which had already taken place about the red crystals and its potential to move of its own accord. “During one of the experiments to verify this claim there was inadvertent contact between myself and the amorphous form. The migration continued through my skin to enter my bloodstream. More on the mechanism will be explained by my friend here who we now refer to as Alex 2. The process of replication took several hours and is referred to by Alex 2 as the completion. I have no discernable after effects of this process, except that of Alex 2’s replication of my entire knowledge base. This is not a physical concern. It is purely psychological and can be remedied by deletion of that knowledge if desired. I have actually felt better mentally than for some considerable time, and look forward with even more enthusiasm to following up this life-changing experience.”
Alex 2 introduced himself and quickly said that they would notice an editing frame while the scene changed to one where he was EVA wearing the same clothes and nothing else. Following the demonstration the filming process returned to the gathered crew. “Hopefully this will be sufficient to convince you that I am different from Alex. It also follows that in order for you to pose your many questions it will be helpful if you start out with the acceptance that ‘life’ as you have referred to it hitherto is at least under review. Sentience is another subject with which you may have trouble but that can come later. I will now hand you back to Commander Magnusson”
Magnusson thanked them for their patience and said the crew had, in addition to accommodating such an experience, suffered the agonising hours of helplessness before knowing whether Redgrave was going to die. He asked Alex 2 to return to the trays and as the camera followed him there was clear evidence of massive growth or replication of the plant specimens. He declared the initial transmission complete and awaited their response.
The import of the presentation dictated that Xiang and Koppelt discuss questions related to the mission status and widening of this revelation. That widening had to take in the members of the other discussion group – the Experts, who were not feeling that they deserved such a lofty accolade. It was agreed that they should go first with their questions. This was to ensure Koppelt would hear every comment and the boffins would only hear stuff related to their own field. They were forewarned that all knowledge of this event was to remain with the six of them until further notice, and to that end they would be required to live on site for the present.
Cameron was elected as the spokesman for the first transmission. The queries were predictably many and varied, and it made more sense for Alex 2 to give a reply in lecture form, hopefully covering every aspect. He began, “The first point is with regard to your difficulty in broadening your appreciation of what can constitute life. If I may start with something which risks upsetting you; organic driven systems are littered with weaknesses. Some of these are - shelf life, energy and waste management, unstructured genetic mutation or reinforcement. Your science journals contain many claims that the unravelling of the genetic code illustrates how wonderfully elegant the evolutionary process of humanity has been. An alternate view is that the repetitive passing of biochemical information between cells and the eventual involvement of the brain, assisted by visual, audio, olfactory and other senses such as touch, is extremely limited in efficiency. Paradigm frequency is impacted. My form has other limitations but in this respect the inorganic nucleus is more robust and ordered in replication and information processing. It will surprise you to know that your need for sustenance and regenerative rest has subsequently been designed out of my replicated form. My metabolic cycle is based upon information rather than food. I need no rest other than enforced re-crystallisation. Your crew is aware that I have been on Mars for several billions of years in that form. When an information plateau occurs and persists, my form would regress. The closest word in your language is hibernation, where an environmental stimulus causes metabolic shut down until a change re-energises the activity. My most recent ‘hibernation’ started three and a half billion years ago, but all prior information is retained. The encounter with this crew was caused by the lab condition breaking the environmental hibernation conditions, then the curiosity/confinement ‘gene’ generates extremely primitive movement patterns, (I will come back to this) and eventual contact with a promising information source. During the completion my programming copies everything from the source and decides later what is needed. You can see the functions of form, communication, senses, and brain functi
“There are two specific items to which there are simpler technical explanations but may raise ethical or moral issues. The first deals with any intentions I or we may have to attempt further replications. That is your decision. The term completion means exactly that, I will not breed. If some amorphous form accidently reached me, it would assess changes from the time of the first completion and if not significant, move on. Similar accidental contact with another human would result in replication. Plants are slightly different insofar as the higher functions are less in number and complexity than in humans. They are not sentient and therefore cannot decide upon further replication, but rather are likely to grow indiscriminately into more contact. The change in size, bud formation, loss of leaf etc. would be interpreted as sufficiently different from the first replication to trigger another. The decision for you to confine the amorphous form to prevent ‘danger’ of unplanned human copying would be prudent, as long as you recognise the programmed need for it to escape. The safest temporary location you have is the containers where it already resides; the long term alternative is the Martian canyon which will cause recrystallisation.
“The second issue concerns the fear of something like this replication occurring on Earth and all kinds of implications. There will be seeds of crystals on your planet which may have intersected with prehistoric or more recent species already. As such, they would be part of your planet’s or even your own rate of evolution. Crystals could be buried by tectonic shifts, volcanic or extraterrestrial impacts at any time since the formation of the planet. A side issue of this has been brought to my attention. Much of human society has belief in some kind of “God”. The notion of a creator and judgement entity to explain all things which cannot otherwise be understood is not illogical. My own existence was planned by some entity called the Progenitors. To save time I am appending the information I have as to their form and purpose. Although I do not view them as a God I can see that the sheer mention of this could disturb the beliefs to which I referred. I can also anticipate that some of these Gods will recommend purging of such controversial alternative views. They may even demand my erasure, as an alien life form, which conflicts with their teachings. That, if you choose such a path, will not erase the fact that these events took place. The consequence as well as the decision is yours. For me and the Progenitors there will be another time whichever way you decide. The human species is likely to have mutated or become extinct in the time frame considered worthwhile of analysis by my designers. This is not a new dilemma for humans who have controlled the world over the non-nomadic history, but it is one in which a promising species can shed some of its use of moral high ground as a progressive social tool. Delusion and illusion are the opposite sides of the same thing – control. I look forward to the next transmission.”
The committee members had already started scribbling when Koppelt ushered them out to another office. He told Xiang of his guess at how the politicians would want to handle this. The Mission Controller nodded and predicted a similar level of confusion over the direction of the project. They spelled out their respective unease on the transmission, which was addressed for Magnusson and Veltrano only. When Magnusson said they had obtained the alias of Fatim Ahmed from the replicant and that he was at university with Redgrave, Koppelt relaxed a little. He brightened even more when the connection with Syria was added. Xiang was apprehensive of calls for Darwin’s voyage to be postponed, and the return of Copernicus to be similarly held in abeyance until there was proof of zero contamination of every member of the crew. Magnusson was despondent that his advice to go this route appeared to have provoked such a poor appreciation back on Earth.
Investigations by Koppelt’s team came up with an interesting slant. Nobody wanted to talk of Fatim Ahmed. That is until he received a request to meet Eyal Rabinowitz. He assumed it was to do with the Martian bombshell. They arranged to meet for dinner at the Beijing Hilton. On the way he pondered who might have leaked some or all, of the Mars situation so quickly and yet avoided widespread journalistic claims of a cover up. He was surprised then that Eyal opened the exchange with a military history lesson. “During the last Middle East conflict, Iran, having recently developed nuclear weaponry, was keen to honour certain promises made to America, Russia and China for their duplicitous ‘blind eye’ policy over this. Consequently, the Arab states which were left to fight the actual war were vocally supported by Iran, and the sponsorship of subversive action against Israel continued; no Iranian forces were involved. This caused bitterness and eventually a United States of Arabia was formed, despite many deep initial reservations. The ploy that it only needed to be forged for the Jihad prevailed. As you know, it is still in existence. This also left the West free to support Israel and the East to act as some kind of pseudo-humanitarian referee.
“The main ‘fixer’ in these fractious alliances for the Arab states was Fatim Ahmed. He was known by a different name then, Nasser something, but it was him. There were others who were politicians and investors, but he was the man behind the scenes. I hope this is helpful.”
“It is indeed. How did you know I was looking for him?”
“I still have friends in and around Israel, as you might imagine, and the grapevine does shake when questions are asked about someone like that. As long as he breathes, they cannot rest.”
Koppelt considered carefully his next question. “Can you lead me to him or would that be imprudent in your present office?”
“It is indeed very sensitive; I shouldn’t really know what I have just told you. I can’t participate any further.”
Karl seized upon this bullshit and confessed, “There are a couple of other things you should not know, the first is about an organisation called the Circle of Restoration.”
“Keep your voice down Karl, neither of us should know that. I think we are done here.”
“Not quite. You should also not know of the discovery of life on Mars - well, not yet anyway. We are double checking the veracity of the claim. It would be just as embarrassing for me if there was general knowledge of who told you, similar to your tip off on Ahmed. Many thanks for the confidence you have shown in me. Goodnight.” Koppelt felt a little better than he had before dinner.
The questions deluged in from the Committee, reaching from the potential life-extending impact for humans to the almost theological need to know everything about the Progenitors. There was a distinct air of anti-climax when Alex 2’s replies were consistently delivered as – ‘it is really for your species to decide’. When they tried to convey to him that humanity had a poor record in decision making of this magnitude, if it is left to politicians, he simply said that it was not his way or that of the Progenitors to interfere at this level of detail. One specific response he gave was on the question of damage or regeneration of replicant tissue. He told them that the central data system assessed the situation continuously and failing or damaged data cells were replaced by new ones, unless the damage was to unused or redundant parts.
Xiang’s anxiety over the beckoning Darwin launch precipitated a meeting with the Confederation of Nations Executive Panel. There were seven members including Rabinowitz. The predictable knee-jerk reaction of the majority was to dela
This had managed to reverse the decision and Xiang quickly contacted Magnusson for his input on any modifications to crew make up. They agreed on one - replacing Natalia’s function with more expertise in the area of life sciences, chemistry, physics etc.
Koppelt had virtually given up on the feelers he had put out to contact Ahmed when out of the blue he received a hand-delivered letter on official United States of Arabia stationery. It pointed out that a request to meet with their personnel had to be approved via their embassy in Beijing. He duly went there personally and was met with a screening process which eventually landed him in a tiny office.
A stocky man greeted him with rehearsed insincerity and told him his boss was in Dubai at this time. Before he could reply the man said, “My boss controls all of Mr. Ahmed’s appointments. I will make a call to see if he can speak with you.”
The call was successful and Koppelt was handed the phone. “Aziz here, I’m about to enter a meeting. Please, be brief.” Koppelt tried to condense the pertinent details of his agenda into a couple of sentences but was cut off by Aziz. “I see, Mr. Ahmed will be informed and you will have some response tomorrow, please leave contact details with my assistant.”
As he left the embassy Karl held out no hope of this going further. The next day he did receive an invitation to meet Ahmed in Dubai and was informed of reservations in his name at the Dubai Crescent Palace. His flights were booked and the embassy in Beijing would deliver the paperwork within an hour.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes