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The Last Best Hope

By Melody Clark
Page 2 of 38

The Magic Show

      

The Master of Illusion descended.

      He stepped out of the air, from a three-dimensional castle born of rainbow light. At the sound of calliope music, a hush broke over the audience, followed by immovable silence.

      He brought up his left hand and a team of snow-white unicorns soared past the gates of the rainbow castle, banking low across the Lyceum audience. White fire swirled from the finger of his right hand as he spun the light in circles till a carousel was formed.

      He clapped his hands together until the images merged. Unicorns in place upon the carousel, they started moving up and down.

      Applause exploded.

      All around Academician Sen Leusip, faces were filled with wonder. Small faces, the faces of children who had rarely, if ever, known wonder before. For whatever reason Federation brass approved his Lyceum field study, the whole event was validated by this one moment. If for no other reason, Leusip was made glad by this.

      Leusip moved to the door of the control room as the Numenmaestro and his small blond apprentice made their way through the crowd of young ones, all grasping at his generous sleeves.

      Could these possibly be the same children? Leusip marvelled. The same children who had been dourly shepherded through the Alpha Lyceum Hall doors?

      Granted, Sen had known his friend the Numenmaestro for more than thirty years, since Leusip's defection from Spaceworld. He had seen him perfect his thankless craft to a point where none could touch him. It was a mastery of sleight-of-vision and holomovement, the Magnum Opus of Magic Shows.

      But Leusip was an Alpha Lyceum veteran and he knew well the closed minds of Alpha children. He'd presided over generation after generation of these compromised young, with their intrinsic incredulity and rational minds. He knew too well what skill it took to capture the reins of their beliefs.

      And these children were not merely Alpha. These were the children of Standard Increase, all one hundred and twenty of them.

      With some regret, he returned to the control room, studying the screen that bore electrical witness to his friend's accomplishment. Scalp sensors were transmitting brainwaves in cycles-per-second from all the candidates into the main bank, and the computer graphed those images on the screen. Each child was assigned a number on the screen.

      For the most part, the graphs were all classed Alpha-wave-to-light-Beta, meaning open, receptive, suggestible. These were the children with their faces full of wonder, the ones grasping at the Numenmaestro as he left. They had allowed themselves, for a moment, to believe in the magic.

      As happy as Leusip was for them, they had already failed the test. Only thirty-one of the Standard Increase candidates remained in his Analog Field Study.

      Their brainwaves read full-Beta, the rigid analytical pattern of the objective, dissecting mind. They had already deciphered the mechanisms behind the illusion and were not impressed. For as tightly webbed as the pattern was of the Numenmaestro's chimera, these children's brains were faster. Particularly candidates 21, 104, and 6.

      From them, he would choose one to train at his side in the Biosystems Sector. Or so the Federation would believe.

      

The Achilles Phase

      

The lectern faced a Speaker's Hall designed for seven-hundred. The thirty-one children were seated in every other chair of the first two rows. At least he could see their faces. Leusip hadn't lectured here since his promotion to C.E.C. sovereign. He'd forgotten how wide the gulf was between the podium and those young minds in the far rows. He'd forgotten the supreme malignant silence that could catch a timid voice and swallow it forever. But he did remember the frustration, the sense of guilt, the side-effects of too-long dispensing Federation-issue Truth to young, susceptible minds.

      At least he could see their faces? did he say? Well, perhaps that was a fortunate thing. These eyes aimed at him were icy, lifeless, and unrelenting. These children looked like nothing so much as top-flight computers, waiting to log-on.

      So this was the harvest of Standard Increase, was it? Five years and five-hundred million credits and the crop consisted of thirty-one biological computers removed from their polymeric equivalent solely by the circumstance of their human birth.

      Leusip had reviewed the Standard Increase reports dispassionately, when the first marriage of convenience was proposed between S.I. and Biosystem's research for life-matter transmission.

      He recalled sitting in the Federation Index, reading the clinical reports on the selection process of analytical prodigies at the age of eight. The already-spearhead level analytical intellect was inspired toward heightened specialization. And then the children were to become prefigures for biological computers comprised of DNA-like polymers encoding base materials.

      Leusip was a man of science, a computer expert - the best the Federation had - and a systems theorist. All his life, as an empiricist, he had resisted the insinuation of moral objections into science. But that day in the Federation Index, he'd quietly returned the reports he'd been studying, walked down the stairs to the waste disposal, and vomited till his ears rang.

      

      

He took his place before the children, forcing a casual smile. Then he switched on the network of video display screens.

      "This will comprise the second examination in the Analog Field Study. Those of you who successfully complete Phase Two will continue into Phase Three." He raised his eyes, clearing his voice. "Last week, you each excelled in perceptual systems. Today you will be tested in philosophical systems." He indicated the viewscreen. "On each screen will be displayed texts outlining every major philosophical school, from Anson's Neo-Idealism to Marx's Dialectic Materialism. Read each with the greatest scrutiny for symmetrical integrity, logical consistency, and practical application. Draft individual analyses. And if at all possible, imprint the number code you were assigned on the philosophical school on which you could rationally and ethically base your own life." Leusip stepped behind the lectern to his chair. "Good luck. You have three hours."

      Of the thirty-one number codes assigned, only two were not indexed under any philosophical school: numbers 21 and 104.

      Two children were carried over to the Phase Final.

      

      

#21 and #104 sat before him, in the tiny, squared-off room beside his own office. An Alpha female, an Alpha male. The two most analytical children in the whole Federated world.

      And, doubtless, the two saddest children it had ever been Sen Leusip's grim distinction to meet.

      He refused to look directly on these faces - not these. He doubted he could endure looking at children for whom nothing existed: no gods, no legends, not even their own egos. They could trust nothing. The mathematical abstraction of the Incompleteness Theorem was, for these children, a hideous reality. Any set of true formal statements derived from a system would always exceed the number of true formal statements the rules to the system allowed. Every system would negate itself. Contradiction, death, and hypocrisy were inevitable. All roads led to chaos.

      "Well, now," he said, turning toward them and staring just above their heads. "And then there were two. And only one of you can be my assistant, then the other will be recommended to optimum placement in Alpha High Lyceum. You both have excelled admirably. My congratulations to you. However, only one of you will be able to beat the Hybrid."

      He activated the Hybrid viewscreen. A jumble of light transformed into some semblance of a sand dune, complicating into a complex visual image.

      "The Hybrid was designed by Systems theorists to understand the generation and negation of chaos points. It was hoped it would inspire greater sympathy of mechanized systems for many reasons. One Hybrid function translates chaos into visual images from the random half-life emissions of radio isotopes. Then a second function invades this perfect chaos with a gross-generated ordering vibration fired from a new alloy known as Aquitar, a subtle energy recombinant. From watching how patterns and complexity develop out of chaos, and how it devolves into entropy again, we can learn to protect positive systems integrity, and to provoke negative systems breakdown. Are there any questions concerning the Hybrid's function?"

      None were voiced.


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Melody Clark

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