The Nexus Odyssey, p.27Hylton Smith
Pascal 2 and Red conferred silently while the entire Newton crew gathered, anticipating that the new code-breaking would be a fascinating experience. However it was the opposite; no computer screen illustrated their effort; no theories were overheard. The silence was quite prolonged then ended abruptly. Red announced that they had it. In order to explain it to the humans they apologised that they would have to resort to a theoretical example which would make it easier to grasp. Red started by reference to the human decimal system. The Rabo use a base five instead of ten.
“So unity is, say ‘a’ then duplicity is ‘b’ and so on until we reach six which is ‘ea’. Ten becomes ‘ee’ which then has the option of being transposed to ‘f’ thus causing a breaker symbol. You have to now abandon the alphabetical constraint both in the finite number of characters, and accept reality that these symbols are actually values. We have determined that the first screen messages that we saw, and associated with a parabola, are a distortion of their normal ‘language’ and is more likely to be understood by other species. Their true system of communication is this rather simple arrangement of values and intervals, jumpers and breakers. It leads us to the conclusion that although they may have conquered interstellar travel, they do not have a need for a highly complicated written language. If this extrapolation of logic is valid then we may find that they communicate by another principle. For example, a method such as Pascal 2 and another Symbiant. Please do not see this as negative….the human languages are highly creative and ‘artistic’ but can often have interpretive alternate meaning to the sender and receiver. We are still studying this aspect within the literature of your species.” Those in the gallery were impatient to know the detailed content of the new message.
When Mendoza turned up for the meeting with Alex 2 he was carrying the mental burden of advice from the Vatican about their requirements of what should be on the agenda, and more significantly what should not be allowed to surface. He visualised a severe fall from grace if he failed to outwit this ‘inorganic almanac’.
He was greeted by the Symbiant with a disarmingly genuine welcome. “It is good to see you again Mr. Mendoza. I am pleased to have another opportunity to find a formula of accommodation for both sets of people we represent.” This was not a good start. Mendoza needed to know if this meeting was being recorded in any format. Having been assured it was not, he was put at further unease. “I do not see the need for such records, as you may have heard my architecture automatically places data in my memory. It can be stored or deleted. I can delete information at your request but I suggest that that could be a barrier to finding an accord, which is hopefully what we both want. That being the case, deletion would mean you have the data, albeit from your own memory, but I do not.”
“Yes, I see your point. Actually I’m curious about where you would like to start, and particularly whether you really see deeply held religious beliefs as important in society. I’m talking about an overview as if you had not accepted a position to help the species in ‘saving the planet’.”
Alex 2 read this as manoeuvring him into a declaration of atheism and thus creating an unbridgeable gulf of principle. His riposte was tempered. “Having faith in something abstract without evidence of its existence or intention differentiates your species from all others on the planet, and indeed from any I have encountered. Although this is unusual, in my own experience as I perceive it, there may be a parallel in my relationship with the Progenitors. You only have my word for their existence and indeed I only have the data embedded in me, by them, as a basis to believe they are real. Without surrendering my normal requirement of proof I have accepted their existence. Your own faith can be rationalised in this way. I do not see incompatibility here, merely different points and methods of observation.”
Mendoza could not really see a way to swing the agenda the way the Vatican had advised and decided to chat around a few red herrings and then feign feeling unwell, so the meeting was curtailed after an hour. Nilson Mendoza was relieved to be able to ‘fight another day’.
The four days it had taken Michael Park to hitch rides to the home of a friend, with whom he had shared a dormitory on the university campus, found the house unoccupied. He was uncertain as to whether his friend was on vacation or at work. He didn’t want to use his mobile as Escobar’s men might have the ability to trace his whereabouts with satellite technology. He found a window at the rear with the catch slightly open. He hoped there was no fancy alarm system as he made his way in. His friend was even more untidy than himself; there were items scattered everywhere – food remains, magazines, computer printouts and clothes.
Park settled down and found a cold beer in the refrigerator. He decided to kill time by leaving a note for his friend and taking the two promising samples to a safety deposit box in town just in case he had been tracked. As he took them from the sample bag he neither noticed that the minute orange – red striations had a dusty surface, nor that his hand brushed against it. The four plus days had allowed the striations’ exposure to trigger the change to the amorphous form.
He managed to deposit the samples safely and had a bite to eat before returning to his friend’s home. He was still not there. He switched the note with one that said he was going to the movies and would be back around eleven. As he returned there were still no lights on or any other signs of his friend. He was perplexed but the thought of a good night’s sleep, even on a sofa, was welcomed when compared to his recent open air experiences. He woke up in the early hours feeling unwell. Spasms of muscle cramp and light headedness were followed by short bouts of unconsciousness. He was not to know he was being replicated. It had been a little quicker from contact time to initiation compared to those on Mars, primarily because of much higher ambient temperature and humidity. This was also the first un-witnessed replication, so he was going to be pretty scared without a comforting audience and bio monitoring equipment. By the time the completion had occurred he was in a state of hypertension. When he saw his double he finally realised what had happened. Reassurance came with the first words of the replicant. “Reorganising data.”
The decoding of the symbols allowed Red to reveal the new message. It was a bit of an anti-climax, merely offering another challenge. The entry code to the Rabo’s underground dwelling in Utopia Planitia would lead them to a second protected access structure. The promise of information about their culture, technology and their current homeworld was the prize. They obviously only wanted this information to be available to a species of considerable intellect. This threw up questions in the minds of the crew – would they have been able to get this far without the Symbiants? If they could have - how long would it have taken them? How relevant would all of this be considering these messages were left almost three million years ago?
The lure of interaction with another species was strong even if they turned out to be extinct. The practical dilemma was the means by which they could traverse almost half the planet’s surface to engage with the next clues. After much discussion Carvalho decided they would run their plan past Beijing.
Although the Descent/Ascent modules were designed for only one such return trip there was an opportunity to override this restriction. They operated via thrusters and were still dependent on chemical propellant. Beijing had insisted that there was back up for the new propulsion system in case of problems. The Newton was fitted with downsized afterburners and chemical propellant to take over maintenance of thrust if the antimatter/nuclear unit had to be temporarily, or permanently decommissioned. Docking the Ascent module with the Mother ship and transferring propellant was not without risk, but would be many times quicker and potentially less difficult than negotiating unknown terrain with the robots. The second part of the plan meant that the final ascent to Newton for Earth return would have to be from Utopia Planitia. It therefore stipulated that the personnel required for t
Carvalho was more than a little apprehensive when the transmission did not receive a reply the same day; it smelled of dithering. He decided to transmit an addendum which outlined another supportive programme assuming approval of the original. More Mars ‘shuttles’ would be required to support road building – especially many more nuclear power units. These would need protection from dust storms either by extending forestation around them or preferably from the construction of more mini-domes. This psychological poker play was to exude super confidence in the plan, which risked the only means of their return to Earth if anything went wrong. The subtlety implied that Beijing should be preparing another launch now whether it was a rescue or supply chain. It begged the question of how serious the species was about making Mars habitable.
It did the trick. Xiang apologised for the perceived procrastination. “Commander, I know it has taken a while and you know how these things work. The decision has now been taken to prioritise another ‘shuttle’ construction. In assuming a successful descent to Utopia Planitia and information of interest there, we are asking you to remain on Mars until further notice. The point you have made regarding the speeding up of Mars terraforming has hit home. The question of further replication has also met with favour although this will not be broadcast here, so I’m afraid your people will have to observe that blackout until informed to the contrary. You’ll need to confirm that there are no problems at your end with an extended stay until the next mission arrives.”
The Symbiants, both present and intended, would not need to be involved in the discussion. Carvalho outlined the proposal to the humans. “Does anyone have a problem with any aspect of this?” Radmanov asked if they were ‘expected’ to undergo replication.
“No, this is a sensitive issue on both planets. Here it’s a personal choice.”
Pykonnen raised the point of Beth’s return on compassionate grounds but before any response was offered from Carvalho she said, “I am actually keen to undergo replication. As an identical twin, unlike the rest of you, I miss looking at someone else as if I was looking in the mirror. I realise this is a purely personal reason but it would make me feel as if Elke was here, and at the same time I can keep up to date with how she is really doing with Alex 2, who has so kindly allowed me a direct channel of communication.” This personal fortitude influenced the others and it was unanimously agreed to proceed.
Both versions of Michael Park stared in silence at one another until the original said, “I had better get you some clothes.”
Despite the Symbiant’s confusion he dressed as instructed. Park then asked, “Am I right in thinking you can protect me?”
The reply was a little slow in coming and the voice had the characteristically displaced octave at first, but then the pronouncement came. “Data organisation complete.” This time the voice was matched. “Protection from what?”
Park explained the situation and his fear of mistaken reprisal by Escobar’s men. The Symbiant affirmed that he could assist or even deputise for Michael. Feeling more relaxed Park then asked questions about the crystal deposit and the history of Scarlet O’Hara on Earth. He was flabbergasted to hear claims of several examples of interaction with different species – some now extinct, others whose promise declined. The interaction with ‘humanoids’ had occurred from several million years ago. Again promise faded until homo-sapiens emerged. Although he knew there was no possibility that the Continuance would make false claims, he still found it difficult to simply nod his head when the revelations moved to the great civilisations of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Persians. It was also claimed that this was a key difference between the aforementioned and barbarians such as the Mongols and their like, they ruled only by conquest.
“So are you saying that you helped build pyramids, temples and great cities?”
“Not directly, our interaction with the Sumerian people sparked understandings of the roots of mathematics and application of abstract ideas. This was the springboard for the passage of knowledge-building through generations at an accelerated pace. The Egyptians are mostly credited with architectural construction millennia ahead of their time. Not just the scale, but the precision of certain principles of engineering. Without the subsequent availability of machinery, such as cranes or earth-moving types, they have left testimony which defies belief by contemporary experts. Our interaction with the Sumerians was brief but productive, that does not mean that humans would have failed to discover what they did. It would have taken longer.” Park asked if this was the only data he had on interaction with humans.
The reply was emphatic. “Yes, there was much geological upheaval which buried and distributed the crystal. There are many recorded cataclysmic events in your own versions of history of the planet, but not as many as actually occurred. Vast quantities were decomposed at extremely high temperatures from volcanic action. Most of the remainder went into the oceans. There have been numerous interactions with marine creatures such as whales and dolphins but they seem to have reached their limits of promise.”
Park was utterly spellbound. “Why was there no further human replication?”
“Very simply, the Sumerians deduced incorrectly that we were a threat, planning to use their considerable population by plying them with ideas, only to seize power when the time was right. Even when we explained that they could rid themselves of the Continuance without protest, and provided the means to do it, they did not trust our word. However, as you may know we have consistently said our reversion, whether accidental or enforced, would not prevent another opportunity in the future. Today is verification of that proclamation.”
Park said, “We need a name for you as you’re going to cause a stir when news of this breaks. And, more importantly, if we meet Escobar’s heavies I need you to know when I’m addressing you for help. How about Rocky? That’s where you came from.”
“Yes, then I am Rocky.”
Park acquainted Rocky with his plan to get to Beijing and that he needed to reclaim his samples from the safety deposit box. “I can’t be sure but those were the last samples I handled before you arrived. Are they the ones containing the Continuance?”
“Yes, my database confirms amorphous contact with those specific samples.”
Mendoza’s summary of the meeting with Alex 2 was not well received. The heated discussion provoked a challenge to see if the Vatican could do any better. The usual facade was trotted out by the Cardinals. “We do not engage faithless groups directly.”
Mendoza played his strongest card. “Then you need to approach those of our faith directly. I have worked tirelessly to unite disparate catholic groups in South America yet you simply take this for granted. I’m fed up of your invisibility when the thorny problems surface. You are policy mongers; you are out of touch with your patrons, and you rely too much on the media for communication. I am seriously thinking of stepping back from my role and gifting you that legacy. You need a reality check.”
They were appalled at such brash statements and huddled while he took a comfort break. They agreed that this ripple would gather momentum if Mendoza quit and that some blood-letting may be necessary as a consequence. It was best to delegate this one upwards. Mendoza was informed that they were seeking an audience with Numero Uno to explore ways of addressing his concerns. The backpedalling was not unexpected but his response was. “Very good, I have a flight back to Caracas in three hours so I need to check out f
Because of the plan modification for the Newton to remain in Mars orbit until further notice, the knock-on effects had to be considered. If there was significant interest at the Rabo lair, the Ascent module would need to remain there to investigate for a lengthy period. The module was too small to take a nuclear power unit so there would be no life support or heating facility. This ruled out humans. The Symbiants did not need life support but continual exposure to the Martian temperature cycle would cause reversion to crystal in a few days unless there was a rich supply of new data, to offset the hibernation trigger. They could not be certain of such information either being there or accessible to them. It was decided that although the Symbiants did not need space suits for oxygen they could avail of the battery heat supply by wearing them. With many spare batteries and a much lower heat threshold than humans, they could survive for up to a week, without needing new data interaction, before they would have to start counting the days. Dan was selected because of his knowledge of Newton. Red was to accompany him – having the most comprehensive data on the Rabo codes.
All of the Newton crew except Pykonnen had decided to undergo replication. Radmanov had needed some coercing by the others, particularly Beth and Sophia. Pykonnen had been through the experience and saw no need to repeat. He felt it would be disrespectful to Finn. He stuck to his decision despite Finn declaring that it really made no difference to him. Carvalho had similar reservations but as Commander felt he had to lead the way. Pascal 2 monitored all procedures and he asked the females to go first, assuring them that none of the other humans would see their naked replicants. Sophia, as the medical presence, wanted to witness the process so Beth was first up.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes