The Nexus Odyssey, p.25Hylton Smith
During their brief discussion, which Mendoza had insisted be broadcast live, Alex 2 had tried to explain for what seemed like the hundredth time, that this was no imposition, the representatives of humanity had elected him but there was no requirement to adopt any of the discoveries which were made. To this end Alex 2 suggested his grievance should be aired with other humans. Mendoza rejected this guise of convenience. He maintained that as long as Alex 2 was present in his capacity of Symbolic Leader the focus would remain with him. He bluntly asked if he was prepared to resign if asked.
“Not only would I comply, I have on many occasions reiterated that I would not in any way resist humanity’s wish to consign me to crystal for as long as it is deemed necessary.”
Mendoza thought carefully. “We know this but we do not want your martyrdom to further polarise society. We have the greatest respect for you as an intelligent, caring being and we therefore seek your cooperation in de-scaling the rate of change implied in the present programme.”
Alex 2 endeavoured to pinpoint more precise areas of concern which had turned into acceptance. “Society, with few exceptions, did not seem to have difficulty with organ replacement and synthetic knee joints prior to my emergence. There has also been much debate on stem cell research, IVF, designer babies and gene correction therapy – yet they progressed without the tension that you claim exists now. Why do you think that is?”
“Perhaps those examples in themselves did not envision our descendants becoming something that resembles our template but without any soul.”
Alex 2 could not easily differentiate between something abstract and taken on faith when compared with the memory and character transference during an individual’s replication. When he articulated this Mendoza seized upon it as being the fundamental problem. Alex 2 pointed out that the uncorroborated faith in something called the ‘soul’ was surely just as much of a fundamental problem. The jousting prevailed along these lines until Mendoza introduced the subject of descendants with reference to their method of procreation.
“Our understanding is that we are being encouraged to graduate to a physiology closer to your own to meet the survival criteria ahead, yet you have admitted that you cannot procreate, only replicate. Maybe I have misunderstood, but would not a replicant of a child always remain a child in all respects other than acquired data? If so, this cannot be considered procreation as we know it. I would suggest it signals that the last dregs of humanity have been designed out. Why not just replicate enough of our promising species to carry that promise forward for your Progenitors when the time comes for the next mutation? This would be a compassionate means of allowing individual and mass faith to take its chance with the human residue.”
Alex 2 was for once not able to offer a critique of such a suggestion and the broadcast ended with Mendoza occupying the high ground.
Immediately after Carvalho accepted the command of the Newton mission he was briefed on the makeup of the crew and more detailed objectives. Many more nuclear power units were required on Mars to keep up with the increasing number of tasks at an ever greater distance from one another. There was now more need than ever for geological, computing and chemical expertise following the discovery of the Rabo. There was a need for medical presence on the outbound journey. Security presence would also have to be tolerated after the sabotage events on Copernicus.
The analytical equipment had to be complimented with new techniques to enable better ‘on Mars’ data. Modifications to the robots had been requested to enable more efficient earth-moving capability as the Symbiants were pushing into trickier terrain outside Valles Marineris. This extra cargo was offset by not needing additional lab unit space or habitat as they were now contained safely in the giant domes which were expected to offer a comfortable atmosphere for the incoming humans.
Carvalho had input into the choices for all crew members other than the security presence. He chose Jussi Pykonnen as the geologist for his excellent work on the Darwin mission. He accepted advice on Beth Eisentrager (computing and communications), Ari Nielsen (science) and Sophia Scillacci (medical). The security presence was already nominated and had been involved in screening the others. Sergei Radmanov had undergone KGB type training and worked in almost all former states which had defected from the Soviet Union. His record was formidable.
The construction of the vessel other than the propulsion system had been accomplished recently and was sufficiently modular to accept changes within certain constraints. Carvalho did not see the prototype modifications he had in mind causing any delays. He did have a request which he had kept to himself until all other details had been covered. He wanted Dan to be on the Newton. The rationale was simple – as Commander he may have situations which would dilute his focus on propulsion, and having Dan there would cover that risk. The Symbiant was resource neutral except for weight which was not a concern. The request was approved.
Pascal 2 and Red had been experimenting further with the laser and screens. Red recalled some very weak luminescence at 555nm at the time but had obviously concentrated on the brightness delivered at 633nm. In retrospect, the number 55 had kept cropping up and they had revisited the chasm. Eventually they found that the fifth screen had additional symbols at wavelength 555 but they were too fuzzy to be read. They both concurred that the problem might be the tuneable laser’s inability to deliver a strong enough focus at this specific wavelength. Red requested that a laser with such capability be added to the cargo of the Newton.
Alex 2 had reviewed a lot of research on the mechanism of human memory function carried out prior to his arrival on Earth. This was information which was not in the regular medical databases as it was mainly theory and hypotheses. Dr. Eidur Isaakson was mentioned numerous times in this field, and was reputed to be critical of the lack of funding for this branch of science. He had argued that the work could also carry payoff in cures for Alzheimer’s disease and other such causes of memory attrition. In studying these conditions Alex 2 was impressed that more than twenty years ago someone had actually suggested something critically important to the arduous task of reverse engineering the brain. It was apparently accepted that Amyloid Beta, a peptide, could form cerebral clusters, ultimately killing neurons. Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) was thought to be a natural neuro-protective agent, induced by neuronal stress or injury. It was proposed APP reduced divalent Calcium ion concentration and therefore protects neurons from glutamate excitotoxicity.
Although this seemed reasonable, it was proposed in the context of the prevailing understanding that current memory is transferred to long term memory by the hippocampus triggering the exchange with the neocortex. However in 2006, a theory which suggested that the neocortex actually sequesters memory from the hippocampus had not been sufficiently researched at the time. Alex 2 decided to speak with Dr. Isaakson about this and requested him to travel to Beijing.
Another area of potential scrutiny by the rising tide of religion was the advance in creation of artificial memory. The various churches had never galvanised their efforts on a common enemy before this threat, but had now begun to make impressive strides. Alex 2 had been busy here too. As far back as 2007, nanowires had been produced which were capable of storing computer data for 100,000 years and retrieving it 1000 times faster with less power than the prevailing technology at the time. This was developed using a self-assembly process employing Germanium Antimony Telluride. This, when laser heated offers phase changing properties, switching between amorphous and crystalline structures. This of course was the very mechanism involved with the Continuance itself, as well as being the key to read-write computer memory.
He was also impressed with notes on the production method. Self-assembly was described as a process by which chemical reactants crystallise at lower temperatures, mediated by nanoscale metal catalysts to form nanowires. Subsequent memory devices are fabricated on silicon substrates. This was fol
In 2016 Georgi Popescu suggested linking the research between the Alzheimer’s work and the nanowire breakthrough. It had not been done. Popescu had passed away in 2031 without ever knowing what could have been.
Fernando Escobar had survived two decades at the interface of supply and demand of Cocaine. This was some achievement judged by the number who had not. He was ready to surrender the welfare of his dynasty to his eldest son. This had come about by the diversification opportunity to find deposits of Scarlet O’Hara. When he had been advised of the most likely locations being inaccessible or extremely inhospitable his interest sharpened. This would rule out most of the private sector competition and the government accord across the world had been enshrined to forbid searching or possessing the crystal. This would be under review as more experience was gained with the Symbiants on Earth.
Escobar was Columbian but had residence in Zimbabwe, within a heavily protected fortress. Not many people knew this, as that information was almost directly proportional to suffering an unfortunate accident. The financial and organisational muscle required for the venture was to be beefed up to requirement without delay. His advisor, on where to start looking, suggested that the ocean around the Canary Islands was predicted to suffer a land slippage of such proportion that resulting tsunamis would devastate part of the eastern seaboard of the United States. The resulting exposure of strata and the churning at the bottom of the adjacent ocean would be good sites to start. The advisor was asked to come up with another site which did not involve waiting for a cataclysmic event and he would be handsomely rewarded. The second choice was the North Saskatchewan River Valley originating at the glacier and Columbian Ice field. On its 2200 km journey to Hudson Bay the river had over time shaped the valley walls. During the Mesozoic era volcanic eruptions were common, and at the same time the Devonian Sea covered much of the area in the then tropical climate. It left behind rich organic materials, some of which gradually transformed into fossil fuels. The subsequent period was characterised by mountain building. Boulders and debris were left behind as glaciers receded, scouring the earth with their movement. The resulting knob and kettle landscape is what is seen today. The advisor was thanked profusely and later declared lost at sea after several days search by the Coastguard.
Alex 2 informed Dr. Isaakson that this meeting was an unusual departure insofar as he constantly tried to be the consultant and not the pioneer. This apparent departure could be justified because the work he was about to refer to had been mapped out decades ago. There was also some similarity to the architecture of the Continuance. “The research on nanowires is very interesting, especially the element of rendering the need to transfer operating system to memory on boot-up as redundant. My structure is somewhat analogous to this concept. I have previously explained to humans that my first and second tier registry functions have to confront exactly that challenge. This is not only important for delineating long term and other levels of memory, it is critical to alerting my regenerative function. This function has a similar purpose to your immune system in a way, but operates differently. I have sentinel cells which are directly linked to first tier memory and to each other. They trigger production of new cells whenever attack is sensed. The new cells push out the damaged cells and renew the original template. Occasionally, as happened on Mars, an attacking species can disguise its presence to reach a sentinel cell before the process is triggered and then amputation of the infected region is required. I concur with your conclusion that this work should be linked to the effort to halt degenerative memory conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, and particularly the suggestion to focus on the relationship between the neocortex and the hippocampus. If you can outline in precise detail what resource you need and how it will be employed I will ensure this receives a major rethink.”
Isaakson remained unimpressed. “I have used similar arguments in the past to no avail, I’m not hopeful – forgive me but I’m jaundiced with the myopic traits of my species.” Alex 2 said there was another facet of the debate to be considered. “Mankind has a mental fortress built around preserving even that which is faulty if it is a true component of ‘humanity’. This in itself can be considered a flaw but through religion and family structure it assumes the mantle of invisibility. From the various groups of people who outlaw blood transfusion, stem cell research etc, we also observe the embracing of gadgets like pacemakers, which can be conveniently designated as external assistance devices such as a walking stick or neck massager. If we employ this route we may well transcend this resistance. I am suggesting the initial development of external equipment to lower the emotional resistance.”
Isaakson stared blankly before responding. “You mean an artificial ‘brain’ to communicate with the human version?”
“Yes, in the first instance. There are many examples of measuring and controlling brain activity in this way, both medically and psychiatrically. If success can be demonstrated with neuron repair, and a box which re-educates or improves the communication between the neocortex and hippocampus, the next step will not appear so radical.”
Issakson’s scepticism was beginning to thaw and he agreed to report back with the detail Alex 2 had requested.
The months of intense preparation for the Newton launch were considered well short of ideal, but this was intrinsically linked to the earliest date possible for retrofitting the new propulsion unit to the modified chassis. The estimated time for the outward journey was fractionally under six weeks, despite the two planets being four years beyond their closest orbital distance and Mars perihelion. This compared to ten months for Copernicus and Darwin.
Beth Eisentrager had never really been separated from her identical twin sister Elke for any significant period. They had gone to the same university and worked for the same software corporation. When Beth had revealed her wish to become an astronaut, Elke followed suit. The Newton selection board thought long and hard about this before offering Beth the place. Even though her response was an immediate affirmative it was hitting hard now that they were on the eve of departure. Jussi Pykonnen took it upon himself to help relax Beth, leaning on his previous experience, stating that although the Darwin returned before the planned twelve months had elapsed, he would have liked to stay longer.
Ari Nielsen just could not wait to link up with the Martian Symbiants and hand them their new laser. He was consumed by what might be revealed and the chance to discuss the outcome with Pascal 2 and Red. Ari had initially studied at Aarhus then moved to MIT to gain his doctorate. He was honoured to take up a post of considerable responsibility in support work on the Hadron Collider in Cern. This had been modified since the early Big Bang experiments and production of antimatter. The Newton provided the mouth-watering combination of application of knowledge, the discovery of the Rabo, and the presence of superior intellect with which to interact.
Sophia Scillacci had been sent well wishes from Pascal Dupree, who was still in Sudan, and still had a cache of Scarlet O’Hara, unknown to the ‘authorities’. He had been careful to avoid any reference to this or the Symbiants, choosing to air his regret at seeing himself as a doctor first and crew member second aboard Copernicus. He urged her not to repeat this misjudgement. Sophia had lived, studied and worked almost exclusively in Italy. The exception was her recent work in genetics in Osaka, which was in the province of correction of rogue genes responsible for a number of life-threatening conditions. The leader of the work had received the Nobel Prize and had been magnanimous in his praise of her contribution.
Sergei Radmanov had been subjected to what was almost overkill on the need for him to fit with the crew and avoid the near-outcast status Javier Veltrano had suffered on Copernicus for most of the journey. At least the crew knew of his brief, unlike Veltrano’s clandestin
Carvalho not only had a hard act to follow in Magnusson, but an even more difficult one to keep up with in the form of a Symbiant. He had not really given this much thought when he requested Dan’s presence, but that would change. The launch was uneventful and much less significant in the media than the first colonisation mission. As a consequence of the trip being eight and a half months shorter, more time had been planned for the voyage around what happened when they reached Mars.
Saskatchewan River Valley was a sparsely populated region but there could still be a problem if too much attention was drawn to even amateur geological investigation. Permits and impeccable references would be the safest bet. Escobar commissioned his executives to get the hungriest accredited candidate they could find and bring their choice to his decoy abode in Cuba. After weeks of tentative screening they arrived with a young American-naturalised Korean – Sung Jin Park, now known exclusively as Michael Park. His reputation was as yet not matched with awards and the kind of fellowships of an incestuous nature which attract the attention of the media. He would easily fit with the charade of an enthusiastic young professional cutting his teeth in an industrious way. He was very knowledgeable, extremely focussed on the science rather than the establishment dictates, and craved being the first to achieve something of notoriety. He was also attracted by the financial persuasion on offer. With the requisite paperwork and equipment he set about marking out the strata of promise. He concentrated the first forays on rock splitting and extracted a few crystals of varying age and colour but not the infamous ‘Scarlet’.
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