The Nexus Odyssey, p.28Hylton Smith
It all went smoothly and with a heavy sprinkling of humour. There were now twenty Symbiants in total on Mars. The extra contingent having familiarised themselves with their human counterparts were to be deployed on the road building programme after being instructed by Carvalho on fitting the earth-moving modifications to the robots. This would leave the others free to continue forestation. This was welcomed as they had just reported two interesting trends. First, the extended forestation had gradually pushed up the local oxygen level during daylight hours to 0.9%, having improved from the original plantation level of 0.23%. It was still partly photosynthesis-driven and was predicted to accelerate the retained level in the thin atmosphere. Secondly, water ice and frozen carbon dioxide were showing a different ratio in and around the planted areas. Drawing on the increased oxygen rising through the atmosphere, ionising radiation helped combine this with atomic hydrogen in the middle-upper region, to form water vapour. Falling back to the surface as precipitation resulted in an increase in the water ice level. The extra Symbiants being seconded to building the road would help others push this trend forward.
Dan and Red had docked with Newton and transferred the propellant to the descent module. Dan was busy calculating separation and thrust parameters when Carvalho’s voice intruded. “My first conversation with my new Symbiant has drawn our attention to your landing site and any possibility that a large underground cavity may be vulnerable to your landing craft. I know you guys are precise with thruster calculations but ultimately you are dependent on rather crude human technology here. Are you able to scan the area for variations in the thickness of the crust? My new friend says you have that computational ability with your vision apparatus but it will only work when above the target, which of course he is not.”
Red confirmed that they may be able to determine such variation and he would monitor this while Dan controlled the descent. If, on approach, there was concern, they would move the landing target to a safe distance.
Isaakson and his team were working on the problems of simulating connectivity of the brain with various body functions such as the optic nerve, central nervous system, and aural vessels. In relating this to Alex 2 he met with a question, “Why?”
“If we’re going to have a unit to take over the damaged brain function while we attempt repair or treatment, it would seem to be imperative.”
“Maybe not,” said Alex 2, “the ventilator does not connect to the organs supplied by the lungs, it provides the oxygen in another way. I know this a crude example but I am stressing the option of a means rather than an end. During the process of replication I went through with Alex Redgrave, I acquired his brain structure, but as data cells. After familiarisation with humans it became obvious that the organic brain had advantages and disadvantages. In my own architecture the advantages simply did not exist. The function was, however, retained for some time to determine the downside. That was, in my case, data storage and retrieval hierarchy, in terms of both accuracy and speed. It may be worthwhile investigating connecting our ‘black box’ to the brain somehow and rerouting brain instruction and response routines through the box to see if we can recover disabled functions like speech and movement. If I can refer to my conversation with you on the sentinel cells I possess, and their direct link to 1st tier memory and each other, it could be helpful.”
Isaakson frowned then beamed. “Ah yes, the dual functions of immunity or regeneration, plus information exchange with the main registry.”
“Precisely,” said Alex 2, “insurance of knowledge retention in the event of that particular sentinel cell losing the battle, the remainder can win the war. The key may lie in having the two brains operating in parallel. One provides assistance while maintenance of the other can be investigated. Don’t forget, as well as your brain sensor equipment giving you data about malfunction locations, you may avail of human description of what symptoms the artificial one alleviates. It may be subjective, but it may also surprise you.”
Isaakson nodded slowly. “I’ll redirect the team along these lines. As you say we already have probes which can receive and decipher brain activity, so we have a way to connect the box.”
Michael Park’s plan was the subject of alteration; it was related to a similar shift in his confidence in his replicant. The latest strategy version, fresh from his mental doodling, was to parade the replicant as himself, and then observe from a distance. He was juggling this with a means to get the necessary level of attention, then entry to Beijing headquarters. He was also entertaining the idea of some bait for the media in return for the fortune which he had expected to receive from Escobar. He would also like some assurance that the former cocaine baron would be neutralised. This was a complicated cocktail for someone with no experience in any aspect of such an ambitious objective. He complicated it even further by deciding that he would not get past the switchboard of Beijing on his own, so he contacted his old geology professor with a plea for an introduction. His professor was on many research boards across the world and had the contacts to get in at the top. The snag was going to be how much of the plot he would have to reveal to his mentor. In discussing this with his double, who he had decided to rename Mike, to bolster the deception, he was fascinated to learn of a means for the replicants to converse without speech and no risk of eavesdropping. Park asked how this worked. Mike said it was not dissimilar in principle to mobile phones. Each replicant availed of a grid reference of crystal origin for the benefit of the Progenitors and to facilitate contact between each other at long distance.
Park stressed to Mike that he should only answer to this name when addressed that way by himself. With others he must respond to Michael, Michael Park, and Mr. Park. He asked Mike to stay put while he went to see Professor Whitworth.
As pleased as Whitworth was to see him, he was not able to grasp why high ranking people in Beijing would want to talk to him about a few rocks. Park was nervous about putting him in danger by revealing the entire preposterous story, not to mention having to share the glory. He decided to introduce Whitworth to Mike but not to disclose the whereabouts or the origin of the rock samples. He would have to come clean about Escobar to ensure Whitworth kept his mouth shut until these thugs were rounded up.
As they descended to Utopia Planitia Dan was adjusting velocity and trajectory in minute steps, to give Red as much time as possible to survey the approaching surface. Their silent inter-communication or ‘technobabble’ as Carvalho called it was at the ready if Red identified anything sinister. He could detect faint regular lines at the planned coordinates, which were underground but he was also distracted by registration of a heat source at one end of the ‘sub-surface complex’. This signal intensified then faded and disappeared. The regular lines now were sharper and reflected the same shape as the screens at Valles Marineris. Red determined that they were very substantial and probably reinforcement structures to support the weight of the surface covering. The technobabble affirmed that they should avoid disturbing this area and land close to the outer edge where the heat source had been. This information was relayed to Carvalho, whose sharp intake of ‘synthetic Martian air’ belied his calm exterior. “Touchdown achieved,” said Dan. When the dust had settled, the Symbiants prepared to exit the module to locate the exact entrance point given in the Rabo screen. “Wait,” intruded the Commander, “haven’t you forgotten to suit up?”
“No, we want to conserve the batteries if we can, and a quick check of the site will not compromise our condition. We will use the suits when the subroutine Red has constructed gives us ample warning that the onset of reversion is approaching.”
“Ok, I don’t know why I bothered to ask the question. Keep us up to date as much as you can.”
Professor Whitworth, having recovered his composure after meeting Mike, asked Park more about how he had got involved with Escobar. The reply convinced him that such people would
“Yes, Mr. Park, I’m about to leave the office imminently. Please be brief.” Park assured him of that and asked who he was addressing.
“My name is Steven Brightwell, now could you get to the point?”
The urgency to depart ebbed away from Brightwell as the conversation moved from being considered a hoax, to having hallmarks of veracity. There were elements of Park’s story which he shouldn’t have known, as they were still classified. Park explained this as information given by the replicant. As well as making possession of the Scarlet O’Hara illegal, the composition data was not in the public domain because of fears of synthesis attempts. Alex 2 had assured Beijing it would be extremely difficult to copy, due to the finessing of the complex bonding sequences, and subsequent propagation protocols. He said this was beyond human capability at present. Brightwell took his number and asked him to expect to receive a call back within the hour. Xiang contacted Alex 2 who made the call.
“Hello, who is calling?” whispered Park.
“Beijing, our chief executive has asked me to call this number, to whom am I speaking?”
“Michael Park Sir.”
“Very well Mr. Park, let us make this an efficient conversation. You claim to have a replicant of yourself. Is he with you now?”
Park said, “Yes, but you have not told me who you are.”
“Excuse me, I am Alex 2. I may suppose you have heard of me. I am also a replicant. This will proceed much more quickly if you will allow me to speak to your replicant.”
“Jesus – Alex 2, I,I er.... will put him on right away.”
Alex 2 asked the replicant for his grid reference. Mike’s reply was in some indecipherable language.
“Thank you,” said Alex 2, “please give the phone back to your friend.”
When Park asked, “What now?” the reply was brief.
“Please replace the receiver and I will contact your replicant via his grid reference, as that is secure.” The two Symbiants conversed first in silence and then in vocal mode to include one side to Xiang and Park. “We need to get you here as soon as possible Mr. Park. The information you possess represents danger to your survival.”
“How do you know what I know?”
“Your Symbiant, as we will now refer to him, or Mike if you prefer, has all knowledge that you have of the location of the crystal and the people who employed you to find it. It was a very simple matter for me to extract that data through our grid connectivity. Now please remain where you are. I have the address from Mike’s database, and I will make arrangements to collect both of you.” In a confused state Park agreed to comply.
The turmoil in the Vatican was made worse by a leak from within. It was intended to alert Spanish and Portuguese Catholic Leaders exclusively, but found its way to those of other faiths – and not just religious leaders. Those at the heart of power in the Middle East could see some mileage in exploiting a schism in Catholicism. There could be mutual opportunities for the economic development of the region combined with an improved global image of Islam.
The leak was sufficiently detailed to underline concern that the Vatican had to be seen to be more in tune with worldly change, and spilled some of the private conversation between Mendoza and Alex 2. It was feared that the Symbiant’s sympathetic acceptance of personal faith and willingness to adjust his own views would win over many doubters.
The USAr leaders were encouraged to be able to refer to the historic refuge they provided for Alex 2 and Magnusson following their escape from Beijing, when the capitalist run Confederation of Nations was about to terminate them. It was perceived as a good platform to explore a progressive approach.
Utopia Planitia was uninspiring compared to Pandora’s Rift. Maybe the Rabo had chosen this location because it was flat and probably easier to excavate. When Dan and Red had reached the designated coordinates they were not surprised that after 2.8 million years there was no obvious entryway. They were going to have to do some excavating themselves if their theory proved invalid.
Red had ventured the idea back in Valles Marineris that the strongly focussed new laser would penetrate the accumulated dust sufficiently to illuminate the coded entry mechanism below. If that was the case it would be logical for the laser to be used as a sequence pointer for entering the code. He was not wrong; the final symbol entry was accompanied by a rumbling noise and a localised tremor as the dust began pouring through the ever widening orifice. They stepped back while the process was completed. Dan remarked that it was good that the opening was relatively small otherwise they may have been faced with excavation to reach the secondary ‘door’. Once they had descended into the space they were impressed that an array of small and different coloured screens seemed to light up the cavern. They were also pleased that the second entry test was some thirty metres to the left and unobstructed. Dan updated Carvalho on their progress.
The second challenge was exactly that, not a simple entry of symbols. The laser brought up a value which in turn led to fifty-five other values arranged in a circle around the first one. Red was cautious about casually choosing by trial and error in case there was a cut-off mechanism which would subsequently block any further attempt. While Dan described the large antechamber to the awaiting crew, Red set about evaluating the individual options. Dan reported the artificial lighting which may have been triggered by exposure to natural sunlight or the laser pulse. The walls of the chamber were covered with inscriptions and diagrams which he said could be a map of the complex. He had also noted that there was a difference in temperature. Outside it was around minus 6 degrees Celsius whereas inside it was minus one and dropping as the ‘air’ equilibrated with the inrushing atmosphere. “I believe we need to return to the module for a gas analyser before we go through into the second chamber. It is possible that the temperature in here was above zero before we entered. In any case it may take Red some time to defeat this puzzle.”
Red chimed in that it would not take too long as he had already discovered the principle and would have worked out the sequence before Dan returned.
Mike was sitting watching TV as Park’s friend returned home. “What the hell are.....?” He stopped as Park exited the bathroom and never quite got started again.
“I can explain Rick……I mean about entering your house. My twin brother is here on a short vacation and we came to look you up before he goes home. It’s been a while but I have told him so much about you. Where have you been?”
Rick Traori was unconvinced. “I’ve been staying over at my girlfriend’s apartment. You never mentioned you had a brother, never mind a twin. How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” lied Park, “we’re expecting our friends to pick us up anytime. Do I know this girlfriend?”
“I don’t think so. She’s from Florence. Does he speak English or only Korean?”
Park made the error unconsciously. “Sorry, this is Mike – of course he speaks English. Mike, meet the guy I have been telling you about – Richard Traori.”
Traori frowned. “What do you mean, Mike? You are Mike.”
‘Shit’, thought Park, ‘that was dumb’. Mike, however, came to the rescue. Park had not real
Beth Eisentrager was feeling better; not only because of the presence of her Symbiant – Bee (she resisted the emotional urge to refer to her as Elke), but the news from Alex 2 was promising. Isaakson had a prototype ‘brain in a box’ to begin experiments with laboratory rats. As it was a totally artificial piece of kit she was able to understand the principles clearly, even though her expertise was in the software side of computing. If the experiments were successful they would be scaled up to reflect statistical reliability and then checked with humans. The road-building programme in which Bee was involved was progressing slowly but effectively and they were able to meet up frequently. She couldn’t travel to see Bee alone and Jussi Pykonnen was her constant companion. She had felt the need at one stage to tell him that although she appreciated his caring presence, she needed her own space. He acknowledged this and assured her that he would just be there when needed. She smiled, knowing that the situation was preventing her from expressing her own feelings.
The forestation effort was truly astounding; the progress in pushing up oxygen levels and the minute but significant collection of water ice had spurred on the programme. The continuous plant replication had however consumed more than half of the known resource of Scarlet O’Hara. This was a concern and demanded discussion with Beijing. Carvalho was to couple this discussion with the need for improved infrastructure, and when it was to be shipped to Mars. They had, with the help of the Symbiants, improvised in many situations, but real progress still largely depended on importing from Earth. Manufacturing of basic needs and tools had to be considered in order to turn the current oasis into a budding ‘civilisation’.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes