The Nexus Odyssey, p.22Hylton Smith
There had been an elaborate plan to jam the docking arms and force the crew to be evacuated one at a time by pods. Suliman had lied to Koppelt, but by being out of the loop, the command chain was broken. This was the price of anonymity. It would not happen. They would appreciate this later when the corpse and Alex 2 cast a shadow in their direction. It would also inhibit their long term plans for Israel.
Events on Mars had slipped out of the headlines on Earth, but the Darwin crew were experiencing the opposite. With Red, Pascal 2 and Finn taking care of the hard work, the crew were glued to all incoming reports. Rebrov sensed that this was a pivotal moment. Once the media had hijacked the entire story there would be public scrutiny of everything Martian. The forestation phase two was heading to finalisation and the prospect of a huge dome was extremely advantageous in scaling up future colonisation. Not only would more Symbiants achieve this in a much shorter time, but it also provoked the question of whether they could be left to run the colonisation project after Darwin’s departure. Extrapolating this logic could mean an earlier return of Darwin than originally planned. The lowering of risk and cost of this was seductive to the bean counters on Earth. He informed the crew that he was ready to test their request for further replications with HQ. The response from Beijing was cagey, yet promising. They would respond to the interesting proposal when the Symbiant aboard Copernicus had been checked out.
The docking was about as smooth as Alex 2’s predictions. The crew temporarily parted from the Symbiant for decontamination. Alex 2 had a squad of medical experts to contend with. There had been the inevitable scepticism brewing about the claims made by the crew and Dupree in particular. This evaporated quickly and was replaced by head-scratching when their instruments were telling them – ‘this cannot be’. In turn, the cardiologists, neurologists and geneticists drew blanks and agreed that this was indeed a non-human entity.
“What is it exactly that confuses you? There have been many discussions with Mr. Cameron here, and the results you have just obtained are simply verification of those dialogues.”
There was no challenge; they had subconsciously hung on to the possibility that it was all a hoax. They turned their attention to determination of any risk to human biochemistry. Once more they came up with nothing. Cameron was the first to remove his Hazmat suit. “It is a great pleasure to meet you at last, Alex 2 - I am to be your contact for the duration of the quarantine period.”
Cameron was rebuked by the medical team for prematurely risking contamination and was promptly informed that he would have to stay in the unit with the Symbiant. Cameron feigned anger at the pronouncement and sent for some suitable attire and his recorder. He was not going to miss out on the chance to have an exclusive interview with the first alien species known to have visited Earth.
“You are forgetting that there have been red crystals on your planet for billions of years, you just have not found them.” This statement alone would spawn efforts to find them and any resulting success would kick-start an industry which would dwarf those of cocaine and heroin. Cameron responsibly annexed Alex 2’s declaration but knew it would emerge again.
Over the next days Cameron had the privilege of detailed hints on how human understanding of the ‘borders’ they had created between Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics were unhelpful. The unifying principles suggested by the Symbiant would be necessary if mankind was to meet the challenges of the millennia ahead.
Cameron was cognizant of the minefield of patent law and Nobel honours which would be impinged by this. He didn’t know how humanity would deal with an epidemic of paradigm shifts in quick succession. Nor did he believe human infrastructure would do anything other than complicate matters. What a dilemma. When he brought this to Alex 2’s attention, the response was philosophical. “That is for your species to contemplate. I am sure your concerns are valid - your leaders will have to accept they may no longer be the most suitable to oversee these developments. The alternative is to suppress the opportunity and eradicate my species so that you may continue to delude yourselves. I am sure if I am allowed to address some of these issues there will be many who feel they have much to lose by my presence.”
Cameron swallowed and took a deep breath. It had suddenly dawned on him that this was just the tip of the iceberg. Also, there would be mandarins who already knew this. The entire system of governing by a minority deciding what is good for the majority was under threat. This was not some uprising of the disenfranchised; it was potentially the collapse of modern politics. It could be more significant than the change from nomadic to agricultural civilisation. His persona had morphed from the beautiful understanding of a concept to the uncontrollable fear of Armageddon. He had to get to Xiang and Koppelt.
Xiang would not be available until quarantine was over. He wanted to speak to him first as Koppelt could be part of the problem. Delaying the media interview of Alex 2 was not an option - the world was waiting. The best they could hope for was input into what he might say.
The corpse was well disguised and remained frozen as were the museum of rocks, crystals and soil. They were to undergo their own quarantine period and retrieved only by the crew to be moved to a specific secure location.
The media village made the Olympic gatherings look like a convention for insurance salesmen. Only remote societies not yet absorbed into taxation based ‘altruism’ were absent. Beijing was choked as far as transportation was concerned and accommodation was both short in supply and horrendously expensive. The USAr TV and Press were not as reticent as their masters to discuss Islamic perspective on the events about to unfold. They were particularly interested in the new life form’s concept of religion or the absence of it.
The Copernicus crew left the grey, sterile quarantine unit to meet up with Alex 2, who had been decked out in Beijing uniform normally reserved for seniority. Magnusson promptly convinced him to shed this and dress neutrally. While disrobing he was interrupted by Cameron and Xiang. They asked if his overriding allegiance to the Progenitors allowed for tactical departure from the master plan. They explained that there would be groups of people in high-ranking positions ready to vilify his wish to help humanity and turn it to an agenda of domination. Alex 2 said he had already taken this into account and it was simply part of what would ultimately be considered as unpromising. His point was simply amplified by a question. “Do you believe you are the first species in billions of years with whom we have interacted? Some have gone further, others have degenerated. Your species demonstrated high promise when isolated on Mars. Here there is decay of such promise. If I were to appease your concern by tempering my response to your society I would help sustain that decay. That is no better than the risk of my species being temporarily eradicated; temporary being a few million years. You must trust my experience on this.”
This did not allay the fears of Xiang and Cameron. His was a detached view, whereas they were part of the species.
The hubbub gradually died down. The restored mediaeval Congressional Palace seemed to be assaulted by the flashing technology it had ingested. Eyal Rabinowitz opened the proceedings by welcoming Alex 2 on behalf of the awaiting billions of humans watching on TV. He referred to the obvious impact his presence had on all humanity and rattled off the appropriate platitudes for such an occasion, and finally asked if he was comfortable in taking questions from the world’s journalists.
A Chinese correspondent was first to speak. He said he would ask his question in English then in his native tongue for the benefit of his nation. Before he managed to deliver the query, Alex 2 rose to his feet and said it might be more efficient if he gave a short statement of his own, to provide a background for all to hear, before individual countries addressed their particular interest. He astonished the entire audience worldwide by repeating this suggestion in all major languages of the planet. He had accomplished this learning exercise with the
“What you must grasp is the importance of this moment for your species. Of course the sectarian questions can be considered, but that will only retard the essential progress toward your survival in the longer term. I would like to challenge your individual pursuit of advantage by asking you three questions.
“Firstly, can you see that as long as a consumer-driven existence prevails, you will not be able to achieve the goals you have set yourselves? Colonisation of another planet will only delay the inevitable, if fundamental changes are not made.
“Secondly, are you aware of your dependence on organic metabolism being fatally flawed in prolonging your existence beyond the Nova of your Sun? You must learn to embrace the opportunity of hybrid, then predominantly inorganic structure.
“Thirdly, do you fully realise that your fortuitous discovery of my species gives you an important choice in relation to questions one and two? You have a one-off chance to ‘buy a piece of time’. This can only occur with a sentient species.
“Finally I would like to turn your attention to a man of your past who identified a very profound relationship between an entity and its environment. Charles Darwin was able to connect these forces long before the proof offered by genetics and DNA. He could not be expected to foresee the crossroads which now confronts your species. Until now all species have been driven by a need to adapt to the environment via genetic gambling, relative to environment shifts. Technology is presenting you with a conscious decision of adaptation to known future changes. You have already begun to adapt an environment to your needs on Mars to bridge the gap.
“I have had the privilege of listening to repeated statements from those who govern you that you must preserve the planet for your grandchildren. If this is genuine and you really want to ensure that inheritance, you must address the questions I have placed in front of you. I am now prepared for your individual questions.”
This succinct, provocative projection stunned the journalists because of the implied scope. It worried the rulers for the same reason. The religious fraternity saw it as a wonderful opportunity to play the ‘shocking manipulation of God’s design’ card. The conspiracy theorists had warned of this agenda all along, supplanting with consent. In answering the last two groups he also answered the questions not asked by the first two.
“I understand that God is very important to many of you. My presence, in a way challenges the claims of such beliefs, but I have no intention of directly interfering with any aspect of your culture, religious or otherwise. I can respond to requests, but there is a limit to that. I cannot lead or drive ideas. I have merely pointed out an alternative theory to those you hold as proven or probable. That is a valid discussion, the kind you have amongst yourselves. Turning to the alien takeover concerns, you can end that in an instant. Just disregard everything I have said and incarcerate me or trigger reversion to my ‘harmless’ form. I will resist neither. It is a big decision. You have the means of correcting such a choice if later you believe I have given an accurate account of what you are facing. One such realisation may arise from your own studies.
“The most illustrative example is the ant colony. Evolution has conferred the characteristic of every individual sacrificing themselves for the colony. Their limitations are intelligence and physical design. You have the benefits they lack, but not the sacrificial instinct. In fact your obsession with individual human rights is a very dangerous development. A more sinister example for you is the proliferation of viruses. Your development of treatments with a temporary useful life will be defeated by their adaptability. In combating viruses you may reconsider altering yourselves even though it crosses some moral threshold. I hope you are beginning to see that these decisions are yours.”
This session was not one of resolution; the most ambitious hope was introspection. It lasted for several hours. A couple of the Copernicus crew - the usual ones - were moved to emotions of intense pride by the way Alex 2, their true friend, was confronting humanity, in its own diverse languages, with its own pernicious apathy to obvious inadequacy.
With an overnight break, the media and hierarchy had time to regroup and came to the session with a modified approach. When the corpse was wheeled on to join Alex 2 and the crew, there was shock and then frenzy. Despite the best attempts to restore order it ultimately required the removal of the body and a statement that it would only reappear if the audience behaved in an acceptable manner. This took fifteen minutes and required regrouping of security personnel. Finally Koppelt walked on and took centre stage.
He introduced himself then pointed to the body. “You all know this man as Alex Redgrave, the original human from whom Alex 2 was replicated. That was however not his real name. He had several aliases – but his real name was Tariq Sunai Behrami. He was born in Cairo. His entry to the mission was based on false documentation. We discovered during the mission that he was a saboteur.” There was silence during the description of the various plans which had been thwarted, culminating in his suicide, made to look like murder. The audience could see for themselves the near identical appearance of Alex 2 and the corpse. A question broke the silence. A Romanian journalist asked how they knew that it was suicide. Alex 2 explained that the knowledge he had originally drawn from the replication included the suicide pact. When confronted Redgrave had admitted the plan and convinced the crew he had changed his mind in view of the discovery. He said he intended to remain on Mars. The corpse was replicated before the knowledge degraded. That replicant, or as the crew now prefer Symbiant, was still on Mars. He was called Red. He was able to explain that Redgrave had never intended to abandon his pact.
Koppelt resumed. “We know details of residence and bank accounts associated with his deception.” He did not disclose any further data which might convince the Circle of Restoration their cover had been compromised. “We believe the organisation to which he was recruited is likely to be in the Middle East.”
The questions flooded to the crew as the journalists in particular felt that Security people only tell what they want you to hear. In their turn, each member of the crew corroborated the evidence on Redgrave while sketching in the remarkable cooperation with the new life form, including life-saving acts.
The session closed with Xiang announcing that there would be a special event the following day. The hierarchy shifted in their seats in recognition of the tumult it would cause. Priority however dictated the exposure of the cult responsible for the sabotage, and this worldwide theatre was very much a uniquely propaganda-free forum.
Suliman was sat dramatically in the centre of a circular audience, wearing a hood. Koppelt informed the watching billions that the extracted information from Tariq Sunai Behrami (Redgrave) had led them to Nigeria, from where the trail had been followed to various places before they had found the hooded man. “I said yesterday we believed the sabotage had originated in the Middle East. That has proved to be correct. In order to obtain precise detail of the organisation and people responsible for these outrages we will replicate this individual. This way we can be absolutely certain of the truth.” His omission of the voluntary action of Suliman left the impression that he had refused to help Koppelt. The highly charged atmosphere kicked up a notch when Alex 2 produced a secure container of the amorphous form. The transfer was made before the hood was removed. This time it was delivered as a high dosage directly into the bloodstream to accelerate the process. No name was given but certain people would experience a sharp rise in blood pressure.
Alex 2 outlined what everyone could expect to see in the next two hours. There was no need for alarm or concern for the individual involved. As the replication was progressing, Koppelt filled in the names of all of the people involved in the tortuous investigation leading to this man. “His name is Suliman Ali; he was totally uncooperative, forcing us into this technique, and I’m sur
If this had simply been a speech it would have already been challenged or barracked. The ongoing drama in the form of a large swelling on Suliman’s temple ensured the voyeuristic element accommodated the commentary. Koppelt managed to finish his indictment of the USAr just as Suliman’s completion was at the stage of a clear humanoid outline to the swelling. The security people had to break up rival camera crews jockeying for the prime filming angles. When the bridge narrowed to a cord Suliman’s eyes opened once more and there was a palpable relief amongst the hierarchy. Following the final separation, the arena seemed to hold its breath waiting for some utterance from the replicant. The first unsteady words were in Arabic, igniting cheers from camera crews of the Middle East. Alex 2 intervened via his silent communication and within a few minutes the new arrival greeted the gathering in English, then Arabic. Although Suliman was a little groggy he could not be persuaded to lay back and rest. He addressed the replicant directly in his mother tongue, asking him questions to which he should not know the answers. When the replies were given in amazingly accurate detail, Suliman fainted with the realisation that his twin was going to furnish information which would seriously damage the cult, and the USAr. Before any concern that he had suffered a physical trauma could spread, he was administered a stimulant. The interview could begin.
Koppelt was cautious. He fired questions at the replicant to which he already knew the answers, thus avoiding an embarrassing anti-climax. When he carefully moved to the identification of senior members of the Circle, the replicant did not hesitate to reel off three names. Suliman was utterly disconsolate. These people were not in front line government, yet they had leverage on those who were. They were reclusive, obscenely rich individuals who had financed the campaigns of the elected politicians. Koppelt called upon the USAr to publicly denounce these people and condemn the acts of sabotage upon the colonisation project.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes