The nexus odyssey, p.9
The Nexus Odyssey, p.9Hylton Smith
“How is it you can speak with us right now?” said Banjani.
“The process to completion allows the copying of all functions inhabited. Previous data indicates that the most useful are communication and movement. Others can become necessary or useful on completion. The copy is made and extra functions can be released or enhanced if necessary.”
Magnusson thought carefully before phrasing his sequence of questions as specifically as possible. “Have you copied life forms before?”
“Yes, many times before. There are different complexities. You have vision apparatus, audio communication, organic re-energising cycles, detection of odour capability, crude information retrieval but sentient.”
“From where do you originate?”
Before the reply came the interrupt facility declared ‘data second tier structured’.
Alex 2 then said, “Now it is possible for you to answer questions. The first is important. Is it acceptable for you to understand that reference to the Continuance with your questions is helpful? It is not a problem for the Continuance to address yourselves as ‘you’ or ‘him’ or ‘them’. Similarly when you say ‘I’ or ‘we’ it is also good. The information in Alex does not contain a single word to explain, but similar words found are – heresy, immoral, depraved, and deplorable. Reference to the Continuance by the Continuance as ‘I’ or ‘we’ is painful, real pain, not emotional pain. Is this acceptable?”
“Of course,” everyone seemed to say at once.
“Now to your question Commander Magnusson. The Progenitors created the Continuance as well as many other means of fulfilling their task. The Continuance was originally tested at a distance from here which is difficult to register with your current information storage capability. This part of the Continuance has been present on the gravitational body you call Mars since it condensed from your solar flux.”
The thirst for the next question was now so contagious that Alex 2 called temporary halt by turning to Redgrave and asking, “Is there anything the Continuance can tell you now that the data modification is restructured?” Since Redgrave’s concern over his own condition had lowered he typically made everyone aware of an oversight in the situation by his humorous enquiry. “Does the Continuance want to borrow some of my clothes?” The replicant of course was only a copy of Redgrave, not his attire. The two women looked at each other, then Alex 2’s genitalia and giggled. If this was as accurate as the rest, then Redgrave was lying there having an erudite discourse with his friends and a nude version of himself, and now that this had been realised he wanted to avoid further embarrassment if the mere thought engaged Alex 2’s arousal ‘chemistry’.
This light-hearted tension breaker was dismissed by the replicant’s assurance that it was of no consequence. However Redgrave ensured a comfort break by saying, “Fair is fair, if the Continuance understands pain then it will be obvious I have to insist on you being clothed.”
The short recess brought back the dimension of perspective. Natalia said that in view of the significance of this moment in human history they should all list questions and come to a general consensus of priority. While this was being shaped the Continuance had another question. “It is assumed that you know the only information for access at present is that from Alex. You may want to give consideration in your priority for the Continuance to have access to other learning interfaces such as reference tools – computer libraries may be the best.”
Carvalho took the floor. “If our understanding is correct the Continuance has been present on Mars for billions of years?”
“Yes, this sector was seeded by the Progenitors when the planet had the same potential as your own.”
Veltrano was next. “So what has been witnessed by the Continuance in all that time?”
“The period before the planet lost its atmosphere was of moderate interest. There was no evidence of sentient evolution, but the same applied to Earth. When Mars became an information cul de sac and the hostile conditions became a repetitive cyclical data desert, the normal Continuance reaction was triggered. The re-crystallisation is effected and awaits the sequence of steadier climatic environment and information potential.”
Banjani breathlessly jumped the queue and said, “Then we are the first since then?”
Redgrave continued the indiscipline by asking if the environmental re-awakening had been the lab.
“Yes, the less extreme conditions there encouraged the return to the amorphous form after about four and a half of your days. Your next question is not difficult to anticipate. When you re-cut the crystal the restored amorphous form made contact with your hand through the intended barrier of the glove. It is a programmed function to seek out new sources of information, the glove was not sufficient in molecular terms to prevent transference. The sample containers are.”
Magnusson called for a brief halt to the proceedings to debate the request of Alex 2 to be linked to a computer terminal. Veltrano suggested they should bounce this to Beijing. The others disagreed, exposure at this stage would result in them being strangled by red tape and still having to deal with the reality of Alex 2. Eventually a consensus was reached. They would report further reinforcing evidence of amorphous movement, which would hopefully be backed up by the spiral staircase experiment. They would all testify to the observation and claim the possibility of this amorphous powder having ‘life-like’ characteristics. Such a premature preposterous conclusion would be argued out amongst the scientists for at least a day.
“We will delay interfacing the Continuance with a computer for another day.”
“That is a perfectly reasonable precaution. Alex Redgrave should be aware of a dilemma for the Continuance. All of the information he had up to the completion is duplicated and stored. It can be deleted on request. It would normally be deleted when redundant.”
“You mean you read my mind?”
“So to speak, but it can no longer be read following the completion.” As Redgrave began to panic about this, Veltrano cast a glance to Magnusson. This could also be an opportunity to pin down the sealant mystery and any continuing agenda.
“I would want to do this in private,” pleaded Redgrave.
“Of course, but let us progress the priority questions. Anyway, as your Commander I would like Dupree to give you a thorough check-up just to make sure everything is as it should be. Why don’t we schedule your erasure session first thing in the morning?”
“Ok, it will take me at least that long to come up with a first cut.”
“Now,” said Magnusson, “what else can we know about the Progenitors?”
“It will not be possible for you to know all because of your primitive understanding of the Cosmos, and your consequent ability to process the data. There are no matching translations for this in Alex to suggest that your computing knowledge is anywhere near the minimum threshold. However, residence is in Dark Matter and existence is necessary to help curb the shifting balance of the Cosmos. Dark Matter provides the leverage for counterbalance of unrestricted expansion and contraction of the Cosmos, in which none of the predictable outcomes are favourable. The seeding of situations with the Continuance and other mechanisms which you call life forms is one example of their influence. As this part of the Continuance has been dormant for billions of years, it would be reasonable to conclude that so far success is sufficient. However this prognosis can only apply to this intersection of what you refer to as time and space. The complexities of updating this judgement cannot be explained at your current level of evolution. You are promising candidates, as you have reached the point of adapting your environment to your evolutionary path, as opposed to the historical need for your species to mutate in a somewhat haphazard and inefficient manner to the changes imposed by that environment. This is but your first step, and the random discovery of the Continuance is one of extremely low probability. That is one reason for the widespread strategy of the Progenitors. It should have occ
This was beginning to stretch everyone’s imagination to the limit. It was so difficult to take in the ripples this was likely to cause back home. Yet it made the mission take on incredible new significance, concurrent with viewing the original objectives as relatively Victorian in scope.
With the influence of Rabinowitz, Koppelt engineered a return to duty in America for both Allbright and Northgrave. He had convinced the Israeli powerbroker that what they had on Redgrave was much more valuable to Allbright than whatever he possessed would be to them. Furthermore, he argued, the blatant disregard the USA delegates had shown for agreed protocol was evident of unilateral agenda.
The message which came through to Veltrano from Koppelt was economical with the facts. He introduced himself by informing Veltrano that all future communication would be through him, as Wes had returned home. His son was to undergo further tests for a life-threatening condition. He then raised the subject of Redgrave and the discovery of three passports, three addresses and a Nigerian bank account. “It’s imperative that you extract from him any contact he may have in this setup. This involves ‘shell’ companies and names of people who do not exist. The sums of money are very large. All of this delivers a picture of an organisation rather than an individual.”
Something did not sit comfortably with Veltrano. Perhaps it was the lack of consultative content or the implied disregard for the mission – the problem back at HQ was all that mattered. Allbright had been more sensitive to keeping things as ‘normal’ as possible. Just as well the crew found out the way they did and that Koppelt did not know this. He expressed his unease to Magnusson and withdrew his urge to deliver everything they knew automatically to Beijing. He also suggested that they needed to speak in his quarters to Alex 2.
The distant experts laughed off the excitement over ‘life’ possibility. The transmission covered their declaration that there was no foundation for the organometallic compound having the stability or building requirements for a primordial soup. The presence of Silicon was interesting but would have to scavenge oxygen to begin opening up even primitive growth patterns such as Diatoms on Earth. The absence of oxygen killed off this avenue. It was almost a self-congratulatory mandate to administer a rap over the knuckles for the campers on Mars.
“We would appreciate the Continuance sharing some knowledge with us. It’s very important and we would hope this can be answered by giving all available data on the subject rather than simple unconnected bits of the context. Is that agreeable?” Magnusson’s probe was met with an affirmative and he continued.
“The questions obviously relate to information in Redgrave’s memory as that is all you, sorry, the Continuance has right now.”
“Not exactly Commander, the conversations since the completion are stored and pattern recognised.”
“Oh yes,” conceded Magnusson, “it’s data about a sealant problem which most interests us. Could we start there?”
“Certainly, there was no real failure, it was an illusion. It was an incident among others which would eventually lead to Alex’s death.”
Veltrano interrupted. “Was he supposed to die during the completion?”
“No, he intends to kill himself and create another illusion.”
“Please continue,” urged Magnusson.
“It will look like someone else has killed him. It is a sacrifice. His family will be proud and then have a good life. He will be sorry for his friends on Mars. He has had some doubts since meeting the Continuance.” They drew breath. Veltrano went for it. “Is Alex working with someone on Earth as part of this illusion?”
“Yes, his name is Telebbi Martins. He lives in Lagos. He helps Alex with many things – instructions, bank accounts, living places. He will help the family after Alex dies.”
“Are there other data on passports, bank accounts and residences?”
“Yes, passports are British, Hungarian and Nigerian. Bank accounts are in Bolivia, Philippines and Nigeria. Only Nigeria is in Alex’s Nigerian name. Dwelling places are London, Lagos and Budapest.”
“In whose name are the other bank accounts?”
“No data. Martins knows this. Money comes from them to Nigeria bank account.”
“Are the passport names known?”
“Yes. Alex Redgrave, Ferenc Hadutek and Hector Vanichebe.”
Magnusson thanked the Continuance and then asked for all data to be retained. He would confirm this to Redgrave. He apologised for the inadvertent reference to the Continuance as ‘you’ earlier.
“It is not a problem, it only becomes a problem when the Continuance uses personal pronouns to refer to other entities, but even that is nothing compared to the agony of using such terms to refer to the Continuance itself. The human species has problems with accurate data recall. It is something which can be corrected quite easily.”
“Thank you, we’ll let you know. I’m astonished that Redgrave has such a grasp of English grammar.”
Dupree gave Redgrave a clean bill of health, so he and Natalia decided to get back to the Beijing programme. The under soil drilling was finalised and Banjani suggested they should ask if Alex 2 had any ideas on improving the survival chances of the plants. Magnusson called Redgrave to the ‘office’. “This is a rather surreal situation we have with your replicant. How are you feeling? Any after effects?”
“No, Commander. I must say I am surprised at just how well I feel, mentally and physically. However it is more than a little unnerving having a double who knows virtually everything about me.”
“I can imagine, especially if you still intend to be murdered.”
Redgrave was initially agitated but quickly held up his hands and said, “Ok. What do you know from sources on Earth?”
“Enough,” bluffed Veltrano.
“Then what do you want me to say? That I am sorry? You wouldn’t believe that. You will also not believe I was going to tell you about this after the experience of the completion and the emergence of Alex 2. He is responsible for my new mental clarity, I’m sure. I don’t know why, but it is the same feeling of certainty that I would not be harmed by the replication. I expect no sympathy from yourself or the rest of the crew who were prepared to be my friends.”
“We need to know why?” pressed Magnusson.
“I have asked myself that many times since the completion.”
Veltrano was unsympathetic. “We need to know the ‘why’ before the performance of the ‘nativity’.”
“I must think more about that.”
“No Redgrave, that is exactly what you don’t want to do, we need to know now,” threatened Veltrano, “because now that we do know, your death would never be reported as anything but an accident.”
“Look, we know about the passports, false names, addresses and your Nigerian counterpart,” said Magnusson, “we also know your family will be taken care of, and at this stage nobody on Earth knows that we know that. While that is still the case your family are not in danger. You will not be permitted any further transmissions. If their plan backfires they will need to erase identities, bank accounts and any possible information trail in the form of people. You need to tell us now if your worry is for your family, because if you don’t we’ll have to give everything we have to Mission Intelligence. That’s a one way street.”
He fidgeted, talked to himself in an unfamiliar language and seemed to seek divine guidance. “Very well, but how do I know you can protect my family?”
“You don’t, just as we don’t know that you will now tell us the truth. Remember, the replicant can no longer read your mind,” quipped Veltrano.
“I am non
Magnusson and Veltrano mulled over this dilemma and concluded that they had to take care of business on Mars first and foremost. Drip feeding Koppelt with information would give them breathing space and allow Beijing Intelligence the distraction of uncovering some of the plot themselves. They informed Koppelt that they had squeezed a contact name out of Redgrave on the basis that he would only co-operate further if his family were protected. “This means you must not compromise Redgrave’s position; they, whoever they are, must believe he is still onside, and you have obtained this lead from some other source.” The annoyance in Koppelt’s reply was tangible. “We know how to run our business Commander; you folks just carry on playing with your crystals and algae.”
The Nexus Odyssey by Hylton Smith / Science Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes