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The nexus odyssey, p.23
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       The Nexus Odyssey, p.23

           Hylton Smith
 

  Alex 2 asked if he may say something. Nervously Koppelt gave him the floor. Alex 2 asked the new replicant if all three men were Iranian. This was affirmed. He then went on to say something which many of the on-looking dignitaries found exceptionally naive and inflammatory. Instructions were passed to get him off the podium. This however almost caused a riot. The audience in general had come to appreciate his refreshing neutrality. He continued.

  “I would like to repeat that there is a lack of trust between many factions of your species. I can see the sabotage was very unhelpful to humanity’s cause and is ‘wrong’ by the definitions of the majority. However, as the mission was really founded to deliver you from excesses in plundering the planet’s resources, you may wish to consider that as correcting a wrong. If I have understood your history correctly, there was a period leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 where irresponsibility was not only tolerated, it was rewarded. Is this not sabotage? It depends surely on your vantage point. Your world realised, rather tardily, that the complication inherited from the replacement of the barter system by promissory notes disguised the flaw – the money did not exist – at least in the time frame required to ease the crisis. A valid question could be levelled at the architects of the system. What happens if you want to abandon the practice and return to barter? That could have been done until the industrial and financial revolutions. It is relatively easy for the beneficiaries of those revolutions and subsequent colonisations to argue it was no longer possible. That is only true if you are inextricably bound to capitalist commercialisation.

  “The later refinement, to which I referred two days ago, was the elevation of the consumer to the pinnacle of the pyramid, even if they had to be brainwashed into such ‘self-esteem’. It is a seductive prospect because it gives individuals hope. The price of the philosophy, unlike the coveted goods, is only now being realised. The USAr is one of the few states which has considerable material wealth yet clings more to fundamental aspects of life than the other wealthy countries. I am suggesting, no more, that it will be detrimental to the longevity of the species if such states are not part of the solution. It would be ridiculously inaccurate to claim that, in the many conflicts of human against human, much more brutal acts of sabotage were justifiable.

  “A line has to be drawn somewhere to galvanise your best efforts, not the dilute variety upon which you have planned the conquest of your solar system. They are noble only in terms of rhetoric while maintaining the status quo of the pecking order. What I have said thus far is only my outsider’s interpretation of your chances of success. What I am able to say for certain is that there are forces out there which you will need to harness, if your species is truly looking beyond your own limited horizon. If this is not a goal you need not pay any more attention to me; you can relax and bask in the inevitable glorious failure of your distant grandchildren, knowing you helped map their destiny. I believe I have contributed all that I can to this playground squabble.”

  Chapter 46

  There was an uneasy atmosphere in the arena. Suliman, by contrast, was uplifted by the declaration. He had a strong urge to have a private conversation with his replicant counterpart, but he knew that would be impossible right now.

  As the crowd was dispersing, the hierarchy quickly convened a meeting with Xiang, Koppelt and Alex 2. The Symbiant for the first time hedged over a human request. “Unless you are going to include representatives of all nations I see little point in deflecting the concerns you will confront me with. They are likely to be more steeped than ever in manipulation of separate interests.”

  Rabinowitz tried to convince Alex 2 that there were undercurrents of anarchy and corruption behind every tree, and he did not understand the full extent of the danger facing the authorities.

  “I am differentiating between real setbacks and perceived ones. I think that it will be more difficult for you to convince me that each family having three cars is a necessity. A television in every room, at least three holidays per year because you worked hard for them. These are the kind of things you seek to protect until there is an alternative. You have programmes to address those excesses which shorten the fuse to mass death, but I must conclude your definitions of necessity and wish lists are not credible. You are ‘managing’ the situation to support your delusion. Food, domestic energy, science (medical and technology) and education would appear to be fundamental. A meritocracy would supply these as efficiently as a consumer society. You never discuss this. Many species, not endowed with your potential, have achieved this. Having the technology to deal with an asteroid impact big enough to cause mass extinction would appear to be a candidate for cooperative investment. Instead, you sponsor competing research at multiple locations. I hope you can see that my input is wasted in an organisation only purporting to be cooperative. I am always available for a unified approach.”

  This rebuff was not well received by those it addressed. Carvalho, however, was fired up. He asked Alex 2 if the ‘forces out there’ he had referred to included propulsion technology. When he was told that major breakthrough was possible, he decided that he would not wait for Xiang to recommend him to new research. Alex 2 agreed to assist his replication.

  Relations were becoming strained. The hierarchy was dealing with various conflicting strands. They were experiencing slippage of control. Koppelt was in one camp, Xiang in another. The replicants had become a threat because they didn’t understand the consequences of unravelling society. Their views of what might be in the millennia ahead were just ideology, without the hands-on detail to achieve it. Xiang had already shown unilateral judgement. They chose the defensive route. It was predictable. Plans were discussed to terminate the replicants. It would have to be done in an honourable fashion. Alex 2 had said he would not resist regression to crystal form if that was deemed necessary. All stocks of the crystal and amorphous forms were to be held in maximum security vaults. This would be sold as ‘mothballing the wisdom until humanity had developed the cohesion to utilise it’. What they had not counted on was Dupree’s cache and Carvalho’s double. They knew they had to deal with the situation on Mars and that Darwin’s crew would have seen transmissions of the past days.

  When Xiang was informed of his gardening leave, the ripples began to gather pace. He confided in Magnusson and asked him to brief the crew and, through them, Alex 2, as he was being watched. He also requested certain people in the media should be alerted to the possibility of a disinformation campaign. The crew felt that their pioneering mission had been indelibly tarnished by such sleaze. They had already detected signs that they were to be separated and knew they would be under continual surveillance.

  Magnusson duly informed Alex 2 and was frustrated at the calmness with which he accepted his planned regression. “Maybe your species will come together in the future and the Continuance will have another chance to help.”

  “But you could resist this action, I’m sure you have many abilities that you have not yet demonstrated. We can help you.” Alex 2 looked at Magnusson and the Swede was sure he could detect sadness in his voice. “My data, or as you call it memory, will not be lost. It is not the way of the Continuance to resist the actions of your species. Illustrating what alternatives exist is the purpose. I have done that. It may not seem so at this time, but that in itself is progress.”

  Magnusson told him that it was a two way relationship, and that the people who really knew him would surely have passed on by the time humanity was ready to re-engage with the Continuance. This was unacceptable to them.

  “The emotion is no different to losing one of your family members because of expiration of their biological system.”

  “No,” said Magnusson, “this is different. The emotion of the event is similar but the premeditation is what will anger most human beings. They may not embrace your encouragement to deliberately begin mutation from organic to ‘artificial’ intelligence for some time, but they can see past the scaremongering of the establishment. You have mo
re support than you know, my friend. If you won’t help yourself then we’ll have to do it for you.”

  Having regained his status, Koppelt set about tracking down the Iranians identified by Suliman’s replicant. Real objectivity is very different from its delusional counterpart. Rabinowitz was a perfect example. Being seen to be even-handed was more important than actually fulfilling the criteria. His inherited powers of deduction convinced him that these replicants were going to be perceived by the majority as neutral when they were clearly pro-USAr. Well, at least what they said would seem to align their doctrine to Islamic agenda. The Arabs and Iranians would make mileage out of that possibility. This must then, by deduction, threaten Israel. Any objective person would see that this had to be prevented. Only the method had to be ratified and abuse of power would smooth that path. Although Rabinowitz had strenuously declined Koppelt’s previous plea to assist in Iran, it was now his duty. He would get back to Karl.

  When Rebrov was informed by Magnusson of the sub-plot he authorised those who had volunteered for replication to go ahead.

  The various leaks to the media made it difficult for the hierarchy to implement their own ruling, as they faced the same kind of social meltdown which they accused Alex 2 of fostering. This period of stagnation had to be seized to get the Symbiant out of Beijing. Carvalho’s twin, who he had decided to name Dan, was asked to visit Alex 2 masquerading as the original Carvalho. Subsequent instruction was to tear down the confining door and simply brush aside any attempt to restrain their exit. The conversation between them was of course the silent type.

  The directive from the hierarchy in the event of any such breakout was to employ any or all means of force to prevent it. The use of bullets and lachrymatory gas to quell the escape only served to strike fear into the guards charged with the task. If Alex 2 could walk through such deterrents unaffected, what the hell could he do if he retaliated instead of protecting Carvalho?

  Outside the building was an unmarked car to take them to an open suburban industrial site designated for factory construction. A circling helicopter would follow them and collect them.

  All but one of the crew had agreed to apparently pursue their original plans. Dupree had set off for the Sudan. Indira and Natalia were already airborne to San Francisco. Carvalho headed for his native Portugal. Magnusson was to accompany the two escapees to Iran. The transfer from the helicopter to an Iranian merchant ship had been hurriedly arranged through information from Suliman’s replicant. The Iranian decision makers felt they had nothing to lose by such a reciprocal ‘hostage’ situation. The scenario had mutuality as Magnusson felt there was no safer place than the USAr. The hierarchy was not connected there.

  The others had divided up Dupree’s stock of amorphous form to spread any risk of detection. Xiang was acting out the part of a forlorn, deposed leader and ‘retired’ to his wife’s birthplace in Italy. There would be the usual surveillance for a while.

  Magnusson’s party was met at the docks in the early hours after sailing its planned route to Abu Dhabi via Beirut. Waiting transport took them on a circuitous overland route, to a humble dwelling in the suburbs of Shiraz. The reception committee was obviously cautious, as it resembled a scene from the run up to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. However, this was gradually dissipated and replaced by an equally cautious pre-dinner interrogation team. The medical expertise came next and finally the representatives of the names extracted from Suliman’s cerebrum.

  Dinner was welcomed by Magnusson as the only human guest. No names were offered by the Iranian delegation. They recognised both Magnusson and Alex 2 from the Beijing TV coverage and accepted the replicant of Carvalho as part of the great escape.

  Chapter 47

  Beijing was in turmoil. They had felt it was a good thing to see the crew broken up and did not interfere with their separate departures. They now thought they knew their problem was distilled down to Magnusson, Carvalho and Alex 2. Somehow in the maelstrom of the breakout, nobody had suspected that Dan was a replicant. Koppelt’s intelligence foray into Iran was subordinated to finding the renegades.

  ********

  When the additional replications on Mars were completed, Rebrov requested permission from Beijing for an early return. The justification was glaringly obvious – these Symbiants would progress the terraforming of Mars infinitely quicker and they could bring the new samples from the chasm much sooner. This was another dilemma for the hierarchy but at least they were not importing any more replicants. Permission was eventually granted as they felt this separation of humans and replicants bought time – if they could recapture Alex 2.

  The ability of Alex 2 to introduce them in their own language had a settling effect. The representatives thanked him for his support at the Beijing media conference. He responded. “Please do not consider my remarks as favourable consideration. I needed to promote balance in peoples’ minds. History is littered with conflict and everyone apparently has God on their side. God must be confused. I wanted to get unanimity on this watershed of human realisation that you are not alone, to be a fresh start for tackling some of the problems and spearheading relevant technology. In this respect I tried to convey that your model of progress has more to recommend it than most of the empowered nations.”

  There was a brief consultation between the representatives and the spokesman said, “I believe we have a starting point to work with you. We will communicate this to our leader and discuss ways to identify practical initiatives to put before the world. This global conference concept is powerful in reaching as many people as possible at the same time. If the media interest is maintained then we have the mechanics.”

  He then addressed Magnusson. “Commander, I am guessing you will be the one in sleep deficit. We will furnish you with accommodation and your two friends can watch over you. We would like to meet again in the morning.” Magnusson indicated his appreciation and got up to follow them. The spokesman smiled and added, “We will of course have to decide what to do about both Sulimans. Your recommendation would be valuable.” The representatives were actually a bridge between front line government officials and Mr. Big.

  The media were tiring of the hierarchy’s paper-shuffling on the whereabouts of Alex 2. It seemed the world’s population was fascinated with him, having witnessed Suliman’s live replication. Some of the members of the executive were actually beginning to regret the knee-jerk reaction to have Alex 2 recrystallised. They were beleaguered by internal division. Koppelt added to the headaches when he reported rather belatedly that Carvalho had actually flown to Portugal before he helped Alex 2 break out. Either that was pretty clever or one of them was a replicant. “Wonderful,” said Rabinowitz, “we stand to lose public sympathy if we are proven to harass one of the heroes in his native land, and we have no idea where the other one is.”

  That was about to change. The reconvened meeting with Magnusson and the representatives had agreed to attract selected media for a joint presentation of ideas to address the valid concerns which Alex 2 had expressed in Beijing. It was perceived as a joint response from the USAr to the alleged sabotage, so the appearance of the Commander and two Symbiants would inject spice. Koppelt’s efforts to trace the trio were drawing blanks in every direction.

  ********

  With Darwin on the way back, Rebrov muddied the water by disclosing the final tally of completions on Mars. All but one of the crew had undergone double replications, including himself, meaning there were twelve new Symbiants blasting ahead with the colonisation objectives. They had been left the nuclear power units from both missions. The distance between the two planets would increase rapidly soon and Rebrov had gleaned ideas on propulsion technology which he wanted to share with Carvalho as soon as possible after his return. This was important in rendering the orbit-dominated mission timing redundant. The acceleration of new mission planning hinged on this.

  ********

  The hierarchy was already so divided that this produced the need for an em
ergency meeting; it was scheduled for the next day.

  It never took place. The unexpected appearance of the fugitives on multiple world channels was embarrassing but the content fashioned the final straw.

  Magnusson was introduced to explain that he was the one who felt it necessary to intervene and take Alex 2 from custody. He emphasised once again that the Symbiant declined resistance to his elimination. He then confessed it saddened him to have to dishonour a chain of command, but felt the world would understand this was a pivotal moment in human history. It was too important to be left in the hands of a small group of people who were more afraid of the difficulties than they were excited about the opportunities. His own code of conduct was less important than what happens next. He made it clear that the USAr had nothing to do with the breakout but had kindly accommodated their plight. They had also acted in the interests of greater involvement of all people in the difficult decisions ahead.

  The media were invited to ask questions. Alex 2 delivered his normal calm and convincing replies without dodging the real changes which would have to be debated. Both conservation issues and human adaptability would ultimately impose timescales, whereby even if the right decisions were made they could be too late to avoid extinction. He introduced Dan, explaining that he had followed the wishes of Magnusson to execute the escape. Dan was merely complying with a request. However, prior to this he had exchanged ideas with Daniel Carvalho on developing new propulsion techniques to drastically reduce time and cost of what could become a Mars shuttle. Dan outlined in layman’s terms the advantages compared to current technology.

 
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