The Nexus Odyssey, p.30Hylton Smith
Red explained in silent mode the fascination the species had with the number five. The spheres had to be ‘serviced’ every five years to purge them of social regression in order to keep focus on their space programme. They were changed after ten such cycles (55 years) to ones with greater capacity, required for the move to their first new world colony. Five hundred and fifty-five years was their lifespan, at that point the sphere would be decommissioned and replaced by one with basic features, but higher potential than the discarded one. On the face of it, a ludicrous practice until the underpinning logic was elucidated. With all research effort concentrated on the brain it was discovered too late that the same radiation had caused planet-wide infertility. It was a species killer in one generation. As progress was made to artificial intelligence a dichotomy emerged, a trade-off between ‘everlasting life’ and emotional balance. The five hundred and fifty-five years was to emulate death and procreation. It was long enough to ensure continuity and then offer a ‘child’ in their place. The sphere was fitted to the ‘chassis’ and tuned in, then the chassis itself was replaced with one to match the emotional maturity of the brain. The two steps were simply to ‘run in’ the new brain for a few miles. The new bodies were genetically engineered to last the 555 years with some elements of growing old built in.
This curiously bizarre yet sympathetic finite existence was gradually accepted into the culture and was in existence when they arrived on Mars. The sudden disappearance from this planet was down to an explosion of bacteria and viruses toward the end of their three thousand year stay. Their records did not contain a reason for this flourishing of the infinitesimal, only the repeated efforts to contain them. As they had virtually replaced themselves with inorganic and organometallic constituents, the little monsters had no precedent in their recent medical history. They bemoaned this second era of being too late with research. They had to flee from Mars and only left behind those beyond help in the sarcophagi.
The mood in Marineris Central had changed from elated to morose; it was not only Carvalho who connected this tragedy with the situation facing humanity; and the reason for them being here in the first place.
The USAr was poised to join the elite. They had set up a delegation to meet with top level representatives of the Council for Human Exploration plus high ranking government officials from the big four. They had also set the agenda.
For a long time Islamic faith had been strong enough to help conceal the poverty gap in the Middle East. Global communication technology had steadily eroded this protective shell, allowing citizens to judge for themselves how bad this disease called Western Capitalism really was. More to the point, there was challenge to the accepted fate of needing to be poor to be pure. The ruling class knew long before they had to act that this crossroads was unavoidable.
They wanted to set an example, a model by which the fledgling meritocracy could be assisted, spreading outward to eclipse the era of individual and corporate avarice. They also drove in the wedge of religious compromise. If the strength of Islam could be a fundamental cornerstone in revaluation of how, and not where, humanity achieves this cohesion, it would surely motivate other major geographic and trading blocks to galvanise their energy to the common ‘cleansing’ of objectives. This pawn in an extremely cluttered chessboard was timed to perfection. Seduction is most successful when it taps the heart and the head simultaneously. Whether it is created out of altruism or necessity is less important if it is genuine.
It was an incredible step forward into the unknown for the Islamic clerics, who had to take a hell of a lot on trust from their own government let alone those of the infidel. One question loomed large for the big four government messengers. “What is the price?”
The USAr delegation responded, “What is the price of not taking this seriously?” Everyone knew the price, and if the USAr merely worked as the only economic block with the Council for Human Exploration to find a way through the science/religion morass there would be four red faces, not five. Roberto Xiang tabled the proposal officially, as Beijing had hosted this meeting of the minds, and the onus was on the representatives of China, India, Russia and USA to respond.
Rick Traori, when weighing up his options, including an anticipated chat with the police about Professor Whitworth, finally connected the dots. His redial of Park’s call getting through to Beijing HQ had to be related to the black Mercedes picking them up; it had to be significant. He figured he had nothing to lose; he dialled the number again. He could not have guessed the phone would be bugged even though he was amazed that Escobar’s thugs had let him off lightly. They had been on hand to fix the phone as soon as he left the house, which he did frequently.
They were surprised when they heard him ask the Beijing exchange to put him through to whoever was responsible for the visit of Michael J Park and his brother Mike. The receptionist asked who was calling and Rick replied it was someone who this host in their H.Q. would be desperate to speak to, names could wait. “I’m sorry Sir; we have no Mr. Park on the visitors list. There must be a mistake.”
“There is no mistake, you just don’t know about it. I think you had better start with the top man and work down. You’ll risk his wrath if you do not alert him to my call. I’ll hold.” After only three minutes a voice came on the line.
“What makes you think we have a Mr. Park here?”
“I know you have him there and you need to know there are seriously heavy enforcers desperate to get their hands on him. They have already killed our old University professor and I’m only alive because they know I can tell Park from his twin brother. I need to get out of here. We need each other’s help.”
Xiang hesitated. “I can see that you need help but I don’t know who you are or what help you could be to us.”
“My name is Rick Traori and if you check this with Michael he’ll confirm he was at my house when your people picked him up. He’ll also confirm Professor Whitworth’s involvement but maybe doesn’t know of his premature demise.” Xiang said he would look in to this and he should remain by the phone until he could verify the claims.
“No, I’m heading for Beijing now under my own steam; I don’t have the luxury of time. When I get to Beijing I’ll contact you again. Can I have a name?” Xiang did not want that. “I will give you a number.” Rick gathered his essentials and left for the airport. He made it, but in the company of ‘Alpha’ and friend.
Xiang was reflecting on recent events and how they had conspired to make chaos out of order. He needed to make Alex 2 aware of this last conversation and found his frustration building as he knew the Symbiant would simply take in the ‘data’, rationalise it and exhibit an unruffled persona, concurrent with some eminently sensible recommendation. The trouble was, even if the recommendation was insightful, he - Xiang - would have the anxiety and endless paperwork to deal with. The prospect of replicating himself didn’t seem like a bad idea at this precise moment. At least this thought restored some good humour to his creaking command of self-discipline.
Alex 2 predictably looked for the positives. “It is better to have this man here than out there making things more complicated. We can use Mike as his first contact. We really must decide what to do about Mr. Park, until we can convince Escobar – directly or indirectly - that he cannot succeed.”
Xiang doubted whether Alex 2 had sufficient experience with the likes of Escobar to differentiate between a clever adversary and one who was merely ruthless. “I’m afraid this man will not just go away because the going gets tough. He has faced death and threats to his entire family from an early age. For him, these things come with the territory. He draws his endurance from the belief that the other guy is weaker than himself. Anything else is unthinkable.” Xiang was not sure whether Alex 2 conceding his paucity of worldly knowledge was a good thing, at least it spawned a shift of thinking, and the Symbiant suggested the safest place for Park
Xiang asked how they would explain his sudden presence, and Alex 2 remarked that Park was totally reliant on them, and a change of identity would not be needed, as he still had his Korean papers with his natural given name. His inclusion would be as a reservist. His geology expertise meant he could also be used in mission control. It would be perceived as responsible backup. Park would be instructed to play the game. Xiang eventually accepted that this may be easier to control than having him secretly isolated and the attendant questions it might raise. “Hiding something in the open? Yeah – that might actually work. I’ll take care of him. Can you take Mike under your wing as we have to avoid people here ‘seeing double’.”
“I already have something in mind for him.”
Dan reported to Carvalho that there was sufficient data supply to keep them there. And anyway, the temperature in the complex was not low enough to trigger reversion. “We need to discover where the heat source is and what principle is involved in its functionality. We have detected two more pulses of heat since we landed, but the coordinates are different and when we get there we cannot identify anything which would explain the pulse.”
They assumed from the descriptive history that the smaller corpses were the ‘manufactured’ children. One volume they found was a kind of star chart but expressed in values rather than diagrammatic form. Red’s assumption that the reference on the screen in Pandora’s Rift, to a source of material being a 55 light year round trip away would be of significance, was not correct. This number 55 was a coincidence. It was the best source of the material, no more. The same volume however described larger settlements of the Rabo in other locations. These were slightly earlier than the Martian one, and may have indicated that the Rabo had not found their perfect new residence at the time they visited Mars and Earth. Red came to this conclusion because of their decision to avoid interfering with Earth’s evolution despite the fact that the atmosphere was more suited to their needs. The closest additional colony was in the star system Epsilon Eridani. Earth astronomers had predicted at the turn of the century that there were two Jupiter class planets in the system. The innermost, according to the Rabo, had a moon of similar mass to Earth, and a thin but workable atmosphere. It was cold and they built their now familiar underground structures which tapped geothermal energy to survive. This was 10.5 light years from Mars. The second closest was 20 light years distance in the Libra constellation, in a star system known as Gliese. Planet 581d was in 2009 deemed to be within the habitable zone by Earth astronomers and capable of sustaining water in liquid form. Its mass was thought to be nearly 8 times that of Earth. The Rabo had not described these planetary bodies in the same way Earth scientists did and the information was at least 2.8 million years old. Red thought that changes caused by impacts, atmosphere trends and radiation may have affected the Rabo in the intervening period.
The excitement was gradually turning to sadness. Here was a race which had made herculean efforts to survive cosmic cruelty and at the same time respected embryonic intelligence in our solar system. The prognosis of their longevity was further downgraded when Red interpreted a section related to an unsuccessful attempt to colonise Jupiter’s moon - Ganymede. The presence of a magnetic field had raised their hopes but the inability to find stability in the under surface crust caused them to abandon the project.
When this scenario was transmitted in its entirety to Beijing it was perceived by Xiang as another string to the bow of the creationists. If a ‘super’ species like this could not make it how would humans ever succeed? It was not intended!!! Although there was no proof of their demise, it was argued that the SETI programme or their own monitoring of our source of radio waves would have resulted in some signal of survival.
There was much more data to be assimilated at Utopia Planitia. Red continued on this task while Dan investigated the heat source more methodically. He found a well-disguised descent into a basement facility. A small nuclear fusion device was connected to a distribution and control system. The principle was not unlike that of an Earth prototype. Fusion of deuterium with tritium formed helium 4 plus a neutron, and in the process released 17MeV of energy. It had apparently been triggered by the breach of the antechamber. How was it still operational after all this time? Still more difficult to explain was the adjoining unit which was seemingly responsible for producing and maintaining their life support. Sequestering nitrogen from the Martian atmosphere was impressive but oxygen extraction in the ratios involved did not add up. The missing part of the equation might be whatever the Rabo exhaled. Dan had to think more on this. He had even more to think about when he came across a tunnel at the end of which was another entry way. It opened into a manufacturing type hall. This was a less grandiose version of the main complex and had its own small exit, which indicated it led to the surface. Dan told Red he was going to attempt to open it, and he noticed a peep hole which seemed to be letting in a very obscure light. He found a diagram in a recess in the wall. It was a set of levers, four longer and four shorter ones. It formed a simple tetrahedron but he needed the laser to complete the task. When he retrieved it from Red and opened the hatch he backed away as a precaution, but was astonished to find there was no inrush of soil or evidence of any build up outside. Further examination of the outside of the door showed the same opening code requirement as for the antechamber. This suggested that exiting this way demanded lower knowledge or rank than entering.
The more intriguing aspect however was the apparent time difference between the last instance this door was used and the one at the main entrance.
Following Isaakson’s success with a rudimentary box to chart and detour cerebral messages with healthy and afflicted rats, he was pondering the transfer to humans. He had heard the news from Mars and pestered Alex 2 for more details on the spheres. “That is a much more sophisticated interface than we have to develop; it is way ahead of where we need to be right now. You must believe me Dr. Isaakson, your zeal is admirable but it is the bedrock of shunting human brain signals to a bypass that we are in dire need of at this juncture.”
Alex 2 was beginning to wonder if Isaakson was more bombast than scientific substance. He was then pleasantly surprised when he received proposals passed through Isaakson from one of his team. Agglomerated stem cells had been programmed to function in a similar way to the neocortex in attracting certain signals. It was designed to act as a miniature set of traffic lights to enable its bridge between the hippocampus and the patient’s neocortex. It regulated the flow to approach a match to the respective pulsing of those tissues of the individual. Alex 2 wasted no time in endorsing this research path and asked to be present at the trials. This recognition effectively restored Isaakson’s view of his own contribution without prompting him to validate his assistant’s ‘brainchild’.
When Rick and the Blues Brothers got to Beijing, with the hastily acquired paperwork, they rehearsed the plan. They needed to somehow get Park isolated during Rick’s verification process by Xiang’s people. They had not really given this sufficient attention because haste had seemed to be the defining parameter before boarding the aircraft. They need not have worried. When Rick contacted Xiang as promised, he barely had time to introduce himself when he was instructed to make his way to the main public library and be there in one hour. “Michael Park will meet you there to confirm you are who you say you are. We cannot allow you to come in here until that has been accomplished. When he contacts us to clear you for processing through security, I will meet you both.”
“Oh, er, ok,” stuttered Rick. When he explained this to his babysitters they were surprised but relieved. When he met ‘Park’ in the library and introduced the men in black the Korean put up his hands in a ‘no way’ gesture but followed Alex 2’s instruction to be compliant with any situation while they
The mini-summit meeting of the big four to discuss the USAr proposal was predictably bound by caution. On the other hand there was already a public clamour for more tolerance between religious doctrine and science advance. People were tired of the old platitudes being trotted out, and urged politicians to foster a more porous membrane for ideas on both sides, to help shape a balanced approach to the colonisation programme. After many hours and a few mealy-mouthed concessionary counter-proposals, the Indian representative called for vision and strength of conviction. “We need this inclusiveness – have you forgotten that the Confederation of Nations dissolved because of inability to distinguish between government and control. It should not be a problem for a nation outside this forum to indirectly highlight our insular thinking. The population recognises it. I cannot endorse any proposal which falls short of accepting the pioneering offered by the USAr.”
The meeting was in danger of impasse, then fragmentation. The decisive swing was due to the Russian input that the inclusion of the Middle East was inevitable. “The definition of the USAr as the Arab world is a convenient delusion. Their financial tentacles are global and that correlates to influence. We should see this as their entry fee to join us early. It will happen sometime. The offer on the table now is mutually optimal.”
The Chinese representative was fishing for something short of complete acceptance and tabled a period of probation. This was demolished as worse than a rebuttal. The American was next to fall, demanding that Israel’s predicament would be a counter-requirement. The momentum was clear; the rest was tidying up of the wording of the accord.
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes