The Nexus Odyssey, p.24Hylton Smith
The USAr input was given by recognised government officials and concentrated on harmonisation of objectives. They appreciated the chance to work with Alex 2 and Dan. It didn’t matter who understood these technical principles as long as they were not lost to mankind. They urged a reconsideration of how to structure the necessary changes to oversee the programmes which would be acceptable to pursue. They requested, on Magnusson’s advice, to have Suliman repatriated, and as a gesture of trust, his replicant would be available to the rest of the world as confirmation they had nothing to hide.
Rabinowitz resigned with immediate effect and there was a clamour for more heads to roll. This duly occurred and a more transparent process of electing a steering executive was forged. It was not only to include countries of modest wealth and infrastructure but experts on the technical side. The intention was to pull away from a political overlay. One of the very first topics for the new body was to legislate on the status of the new life forms; they had really been the catalyst for the shift in thinking, which got humanity beginning to break down obstacles to trust.
By the time Darwin had docked, Indira and Natalia had found their ideal property and both had started new careers. Natalia’s new business venture was already flourishing and Indira had been persuaded to become an actress. She had been a frequent guest on TV shows and demonstrated a presence which was marketed ruthlessly. She knew she would tire of the tinsel-town existence but for now it was good. Natalia had eventually revealed her feelings and although not shocked, Indira said she had never considered that side to their relationship. She hoped it was not dependent on such an experiment being successful. Natalia finally felt at ease with herself, and said, “If it doesn’t work for you we have the means of replicating you - just joking.”
Dupree had replicated in case he fell-foul of African politics. They had made a big difference to a small community and it was truly what he wanted to do.
Carvalho had persuaded Dan to join him and the study of propulsion was yielding major alternatives to be pilot tested. Rebrov would contribute to this.
Magnusson had eventually rejoined his family and felt safe enough to follow his desire for a remote retreat and watch his children grow up.
Xiang had been elected to what was now called the Council for Human Exploration. Its purpose was to straddle the challenges of nurturing Earth back to health, and seeding other worlds with life forms who promote the same respect for those corners of the cosmos.
Alex 2 had not only been elected but bestowed with the position of Symbolic Leader. The accolade was based on his neutrality and the prospect that he would still be there in the millennia ahead, giving continuity, and relating the history first hand. This pivotal point would be confirmed and enshrined as ‘A Darwinian Extension – a conscious adaptation of the species’.
This was suggestive of there ultimately being more than one. As with most ideologies, the problems arise when they are put into practice. Alex 2 would undergo a sharp learning curve in this respect. The conservation part would be tricky but nothing in comparison to the resurgence of concern over gradually replacing our ‘humanity’ by inorganic components. The replacement of a heart to save life would be different to replacement of a brain just for technical advantage. The religious and conspiracy groups would throw in the question of the redundancy of procreation as we know it.
This was also against the backdrop of the future analysis of Redgrave’s beautiful aquamarine rocks. They contained answers to questions which had not yet been asked. Finally, big money had already been poured secretly into locating Earth deposits of Scarlet O’Hara.
Part Two: Transition
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 distributed 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
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.
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
Xiang had already heard this prognosis and was therefore not as awestruck as Carvalho. “We would like you to Command the mission Daniel as you fulfill all of the criteria and you will be designing the propulsion system. The vessel will be named ‘The Newton.’ What do you say?”
Alex 2 left them to discuss details, he had another pressing appointment. He had agreed to meet with one of the increasingly influential religious leaders on Earth. The concerns over the gradual replacement of human physiology with ‘alien’ technology were spreading. South America was the most vociferous and was gaining support in Europe, particularly Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Middle East was more active than the rest of the Muslim faith, who were catching up. Nilson Mendoza had become a figurehead for Catholicism, sweeping all of South America and part of Mexico into a sledgehammer of protest at the headlong pursuit of technical advantage, which was steadily undermining God’s presence in people’s everyday lives.
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