The Nexus Odyssey, p.12Hylton Smith
The Committee was asked to give recommendations on several back up candidates who had undergone sufficient mission training, to fill the new slot. The usual arguments raged but eventually it was Mueller who won the day with his view that expertise in inorganic/organometallic chemistry was paramount if the replicant was to be the main focus. They chose Jussi Pykonnen, a Finnish citizen who had domiciled in Tunguska for most of his professional career, to study extra-terrestrial imports. He had several submissions accredited on research with Diatoms. It had been proposed for some time that in order to explain one of nature’s mysteries, these single-celled entities had to isolate silicon from water to transport it across the cell membrane and then deposit it as a solid. However to accomplish this in the lab requires high temperature, pressure and extreme ph levels. Yet Diatoms achieve this in normal conditions, and as such are considered as the first evidence of Carbon-Silicon compound formation during the life cycle of an ‘organism’. Pykonnen had taken issue with the word organism because it kept implying that life could only exist with organic (carbon based) chemistry. The simple Diatom had achieved with ease what the best chemists in the world struggled to produce in the lab. Pykonnen’s work had drawn on a premise that in order to metabolise, Silicon based life must draw material into other cells through some kind of interaction with organic chemicals. Early proposals centred on Silicon offering bonding possibilities to Nitrogen through organic groups. The organic groups, he theorised, could be part of the process and not necessarily part of the data based metabolism, like a catalyst or a facilitator. The Committee members felt this could explain the existence of Methyl and Phenyl groups in the Scarlet O’Hara crystals. Pykonnen was briefed and scheduled for the launch programme.
The Committee members were frantic to justify their choice of Pykonnen by designing a rigorous programme of analysis and tried to get more answers from Alex 2. The replicant offered the view that they were not optimising their approach to what his presence could mean. “Have you really grasped the significance that unless your species begins to contemplate other forms of progress it is destined to become extinct, at the latest, with the death of your sun? That may seem a long way ahead to your politicians but it will be a promising evolutionary dead end. Your existing biological structure is not equipped to escape your solar system. Maybe you should concentrate on ways to possibly transcend this fate. Silicon is the 8th most common element in your Universe and the 2nd most abundant on your mother planet. Pure statistical probability would support the fact that it has a much bigger part to play than you currently perceive. So far my own knowledge of your amassed libraries of information has been restricted. If you want more commentary from me it would be useful to send me data for assimilation. A good example may be that upon discussing common knowledge with Redgrave, I was able to tell him that I have interacted with what you call fossils. By your definition they are dead but not by ours. They are not revivable, but contain data upon which I can offer more precision than your science.”
Cameron was the only one who took this critique positively and this was a problem. He knew it would be even more difficult to convince the Executive. He mused to himself that it has been a human trait for millennia to demonise that which cannot be understood.
The replicant’s time was in high demand, by the crew as well as Earth enquiries. Dupree, Banjani and Natalia came to him with a conundrum. The plants used in the transmission to Earth were behaving strangely. The first generation specimens were making good progress. The second, third and subsequent generations of replicant plants were much bigger, healthier looking, but appeared to have no roots. Alex 2 said this was normal; the plants had not been protected from additional contact with the amorphous form. Successive replications had involved the assessment of useful and non-essential characteristics. Since the roots were only there for water/nutrient absorption they were considered disadvantageous. The cycle could be optimised on the tiny amounts of water vapour in the Habitat ‘air’. He referred them to further observations that the replicant versions had prospered better outside as well. They stood up to the dust storms whereas the first generation specimens were battered despite the protective covers. Alex 2 reminded them that Mars has little atmosphere, but what there is of it comprises Carbon Dioxide over 95%, Nitrogen around 3% and of the rest only 0.2% is oxygen. “So by progressively replicating designs which can employ systems to flourish in the prevailing conditions, it is like fast forwarding evolution. Turning Carbon Dioxide to Oxygen is required by the plant and beneficial to humans. Absorption of Nitrogen is optimised through replicant chemistry without the need for water based nitrogenous feeding. On top of that the replicant versions have superior resistance to the temperature cycles and radiation threat, so as long as there is information flow the new species will flourish. We have to hope that by the time the spreading of the hardy types reaches information plateaux, there is the tiniest change in temperature cycles and atmosphere composition to sustain the evolutionary mutation.
“Of course this is the same for human replication. If I was to be deliberately contacted with the amorphous form, the replication of the brain, digestive and cardiovascular systems would not occur, as experience has now rendered them unnecessary and they take up valuable processing capacity which could be diverted to something like analytical capability of minerals, monitoring of atmosphere changes etc.”
These casual lectures by their new friend were becoming more arduous to rank in their preconceived world. Yet there was a much more open view of his revelations than the scepticism of those on Terra. After all they were dealing with Martian problems every moment. The detached position of the Earthlings gave them perspective, the big question was the degree of false perspective in each location.
The news that Darwin was launching on schedule was well received by the crew. The big surprise was that Redgrave had expressed a wish to stay on Mars with the Darwin crew. His ‘awakening’ and abandonment of his suicide plan had given him purpose. Magnusson said that this would be reviewed with his colleagues and Mission Control. He could not rule out Intelligence input either.
When Koppelt had arrived at his opulent accommodation in Dubai there was a note informing him of impending contact from Ahmed. It came via telephone, and purportedly from the man himself. “Mr. Koppelt, welcome to Dubai, I’m prepared to talk with you but I’m flying to Damascus this afternoon. Would you join me on a private jet? We can discuss whatever you have in mind securely, and my aircraft will return you directly to Dubai while I continue on to my appointment. If this is acceptable my driver will pick you up in thirty minutes.”
Koppelt thought quickly, said that would be fine, and rang his own office to let them know of his intention, and indicated he would check in again on his return to the hotel in Dubai. If they received no confirmation of this they were to initiate an immediate search for him. On boarding the aircraft he was checked over for the usual items of concern but was then surprised by having to walk through a full body scanning booth. Once he had settled down Ahmed made his entrance. He was a diminutive, rather unremarkable looking individual, wearing even less noteworthy dark lenses. His voice however commanded more attention. “So tell me about these startling discoveries on Mars and please expand on your interest in – what is it – the Circle of Restoration?”
Having given Ahmed news that Redgrave’s purpose on Copernicus had been discovered in time for his murder to be prevented, and his contact run to ground from an intensive Intelligence operation, not from Redgrave himself, the Circle of Restoration had come to light.
“Interesting, in general terms – but who is Redgrave? And why do you believe I can tell you anything about this cult or society?”
Koppelt looked at him, directly through the lenses. “This meeting was a mistake. I’m sorry. I thought you might want to benefit from a meaningful discussion. I wanted to give your people a chance to review their plans before some info
“How can you convince me you really have something to say?”
“’Something to trade’ would be more accurate. I already know you brokered the formation of the aforementioned society; I need the names of the players.”
“Really, Mr. Koppelt, you have to indicate what it is you think I would consider committing suicide for.”
Karl Koppelt smiled and decided to let the brinkmanship run. “What I’m able to tell you will become public in a few days, but in these situations even minutes are precious, otherwise I would not have flown here at such short notice. What is worth millions today can be without value tomorrow. I will simply resume my normal route of enquiry to get the information I need.”
Ahmed frowned. “The people you are trying to identify have no names, are extremely ruthless and even more powerful. You are wasting your time.”
“Then we have both wasted our time. I hope your time in Damascus is not cut short by some barely believable story.”
Ahmed rose to his feet. “Maybe we have to exchange fragments to get an idea of what is really on offer.”
“Not practical, I’m afraid. As you have not attempted to directly deny that you know Redgrave, or you are indirectly responsible for his failed intentions, I can see that you may be asked to explain why you couldn’t have learned something from this meeting. My only interest is to neutralise further danger to our people. We’ll get the information without you as will become apparent when the news breaks.”
Ahmed gambled. “Your offer of help is much appreciated. Unfortunately it is also too vague.”
“Very well, at least Mr. Rabinowitz will be pleased if the rest of us are not. Goodbye.” Ahmed was ever so slightly disturbed by this calculated conclusion to the meeting.
Dupree had managed to get a one on one discussion with Alex 2. He wanted to know more about the ‘family tree’ aspect of this replication process. “You have stated that a completion is exactly that, and you, for example, can’t interact with a second generation replicant, say Alex 3, to produce a hybrid. Have I understood correctly?”
“Right,” continued Dupree, “so contact between the amorphous form and the second generation replicant would only have updated knowledge and redundancy effected compared to the original clone?”
“This doesn’t allow for cross building of knowledge in the same way that human genes work with characteristics. Isn’t this a big disadvantage?”
Alex 2 admitted it could be, but said it would depend on the problems or opportunities to be faced in the future. “I have tried to convey many times that the strategy of the Progenitors is one of reaction not pro-activity. In the same respect our movement could be considered a primitive attribute, but is designed that way. This disadvantage you refer to is seen as many linear strands of possibility, rivalling the perceived advantage of spreading the benefits and pitfalls of biological genetic conference of direction. It is understandably a human viewpoint. If however, you look at this from another perspective, for example the biological prison you inhabit, the stranded development of organic and inorganic sentience can offer a way out, or paradigm opportunity. You must be tired of me saying that it is up to your species to evaluate this choice. Can I ask why you are pursuing this line of enquiry?”
Dupree did not know whether it was possible to confide in a replicant but took the risk. “I’m considering a completion for myself. I was being devil’s advocate in a way, I want to give something more to the science of Medicine, and you have really confirmed such a replication will preserve its identity in that field. It will only be corrupted with politics etc. by updating interaction with other data sources.”
“Yes, that is the guiding rationale, the data from the first completion is embedded in 1st tier registry, and the subsequent accumulation of data, including redundancy criteria is subordinated to 2nd tier. As you have seen with me, the core knowledge of Alex Redgrave has been reinforced with data from billions of years ago and is the sum is what I am. I can therefore help Alex assimilate knowledge in his field that he otherwise could not access. The post-completion gain in knowledge that I am acquiring is potentially useful in considering further replication. All knowledge can be deleted, the 1st tier type leaves blank space, and 2nd tier vacates re-usable space. Any need for regeneration assesses and adjusts the ratio of first and second tier capacity to the optimum at that time”
Dupree nodded, “I have decided to go ahead, please do not reveal this to anyone as I fear it would be prevented.”
“Would you like me to delete the conversation now?”
“Well,” ventured Dupree, “if I have got the hang of this, then after the completion, the replicant and I would know of this conversation and it can be retained or deleted thereafter. I don’t want you to be suspected of advising or coercing me to this action, so please delete it now.”
Dupree made contact with the amorphous form and just before the swelling would become noticed, he confided in Natalia, and asked her to apologise to the others for the secrecy, but there was no other way. He was prepared for the consequences. She was utterly shocked, but then some understanding of his thinking filtered through the disturbance. The Commander was not going to be so objective.
Ever since the revelations about his agenda, Redgrave had not enjoyed much social intercourse with the rest of the crew. Knowing of his history, his about face and decision to stay on Mars had mellowed the feeling a little, but he was still aware of mistrust. None more so than from Carvalho, who had to accompany him every day to Pandora’s Rift. Redgrave was collecting samples with a vengeance and Carvalho’s role as safety presence was getting him down. The drillbot was now concentrated very much on the base of the chasm. Most of the samples were rocky with deposited layers of white and coloured strata, so this was very slow capture, and added to Carvalho’s frustration.
“So Redgrave, what is it about you God people that persuades you that it is acceptable to harm innocent people, when you all claim that your religion teaches tolerance and sanctity of life?”
“Indoctrination and constant propaganda for a young person is difficult to resist if you are isolated with your doubts.”
Carvalho persisted. “I’m not talking exclusively about your own religion. History accuses all forms of the omnipotent one having disciples of power by fear.”
“I can’t deny what you claim. I can only deal with my own situation at present. It has taken an event of this magnitude and lack of counter propaganda to see things differently.”
Carvalho was unrelenting. “What do you think protagonists of fundamentalism really want to achieve? I can appreciate many values of your moderate Islamic culture, and there have been wrongs inflicted over time on Jews, Christians, Hindus, Pagans, etc. but we can’t carry this around forever. Capitalism is a target too. Not everyone in the world shares the extolled virtues of such a system, including myself, but it must be changed by supplanting it with a better way.”
Redgrave shrugged his shoulders. “You are talking from a position of strength and hope. Many of the fundamentalists you are talking about have nothing, except of course, the promise of a better deal in the next life.”
Carvalho’s frustration was rising. “They want to take over the world by terror, inflicted first on their own people and through them on others. It is comparable with the Inquisition. Strange how all you so called ‘cleansers of the soul’ always have a different God on your side.”
This venomous twist extracted something from Redgrave which struck Carvalho as unusual. “You must not always assume religion is responsible for all strategy Daniel. There is also ability to affect your own destiny when a major change rears its head, like the colonisation consequences we are spearheading right now.”
“Yeah right, let’s get back to Central.”
Magnusson was furious. “What the hell does Dupree think he is doing? This can prejudice
When Koppelt got back to the Crescent Palace he settled down and reflected that he had made the earlier phone call to base anticipating that his ‘want for nothing’ suite was bugged. He made the next call even more certain of this. “I’m back, no problem. However there is no progress to report. He was visibly disturbed at the mention of brother Eyal’s involvement. Imagine his discomfort when he realises we have a double of Redgrave. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
He was right - within an hour there was a knock on the door. A young bellboy delivered an envelope and said he would receive a visit from another ‘gentleman’ very soon. The contents were coded and the new arrival was to unravel the symbols. It read. ‘The people I represent would rather talk about their programme than their identity, and they assume that may be what you want anyway. If this is the case I can meet you tomorrow at your suite. You would be expected to offer in return more information about the forthcoming news you mentioned’. Koppelt asked the translator to set up the meeting and called his office to verify his delayed return.
Magnusson addressed the crew with a balance of good and bad news. “Darwin has been launched and will be here on schedule. There are some minor last minute changes to its crew and cargo which will be explained via the next transmission. Before you jump for joy, I have to report that our Doctor is taking a rest because he has taken it upon himself to undergo a completion with the amorphous form. He didn’t consult me and I’m afraid this may well have consequences when Earth Intelligence is informed. They may suspect that we’re all being or have been replicated by a hostile life form, and Darwin could conceivably be ordered to investigate prior to our return.”
There was a palpable discomfort in the group, for different reasons. Carvalho and Veltrano were bordering on anger, Redgrave felt even more like a leper, and the women consequently were nervous about expressing support for Dupree’s motives, thereby challenging the increasing testosterone level of the crew.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes