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Pattern of Infinity - Part I - A Very Ordinary Need

By J. Kel
Page 1 of 5

 

At which the universal host up sent a shout that tore hell's concave,

and beyond frighted the reign of Chaos and Old Night.

-- John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

"Iacta alea est!" ("The die is cast!")

--Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.)

And it came to pass in Year 178 (New Calendar), Year 584 (Revised Standard Calendar), Year 2789 (Old Calendar) that the Lord Protector, Minister of Science and Defense, the only man honored twice with the Order of the Falconer for bravery in service to the Federation, was summoned before the Supreme Commander, his knowledge and skills required once more.

He was loved by the masses (the Lord Protector had earned his titles many times over.)

He was hated by the leadership (the Lord Protector had earned his titles many times over).

But even the hated have their uses, and no one knew thatbetter than the First Citizen, the man who killed Blake . . .

Being as Meaning

Silver contrails etch smoked-glass sky,

Of a day soon to die.

The city, the plains, and the whispering stars,

Form the grid of interstellar power, these.

And they are his. . .

"To each remember: man is not alone." What a strange sentence to conclude a scientific paper! Yet the man before him had done just that. Nor was the sentence an aberration. The whole body of his later work was in a similar vein. Nor was that all. The man uncomfortably reminded Avon of someone (yes!). But for several minutes he could not explain who or why.

The scientist, Geir, was from the outer worlds. In his sixties, he had an air of nervous energy that would have credited a much younger man. Bald, carefully dressed, there was a crackle of intensity about him, an intensity that never subsided. His eyes were always focused forward, and that Avon concluded as the man closed his presentation was probably the only thing that was bothersome. He looked like he never glanced to the side. He seemed to feel he could be carried forward on the strength of his vision alone and wanted others to be very much aware of that. Of course! Avon knew the type only too well. Such people were trouble. They never left you in peace.

The man had been speaking for nearly an hour. Avon listened but his eyes were on the world outside. It was winter in the Capitol, and winter was for him the most honest of seasons. Winter was a negative universe, and the black and white contrasts in that certain slant of light satisfied a need within him. They formed a starkly simple and reassuring view of existence. An inadequate view to be sure, but why not indulge that feeling of on occasion? From this office he affected the destiny of a hundred billion people over several thousand worlds. That was a simple fact. And it was a fact that the man before him lacked such simplicity.

Winter Earth. The Central Tower and all it surveyed -- his!

Bitter winds of ice, solemn plains of snow,

A frigid certainty of sky.

What more was wanted? What more was needed?

Long ago this had been the site of Kalgerry, one of the largest cities of the continent's dominant 20th century nation, the Unlimited State. A popular site, it had been obliterated in both Vesperas. That was about all that was known for certain about the predecessors of Servalan City. But for those who study the past, "facts" filtered through time, eroded through the centuries, were a pleasure regardless of accuracy. Only the dull questioned the details: one can love and doubt simultaneously -- why dwell on the cracks between the emotions? Once there had been cities here. If those cities were ground forever under waves of war, so be it. What was crucial in life was defiance. And in defiance there was a new city. This city would last a millennium. So it had been decreed by the woman who had given it her name.

". . . I therefore felt it of vital necessity that I carry my appeal to the highest levels of the Federation. I understand, of course, resources are limited: 'strained' is perhaps the better word. Things are better since Blake's . . . the Troubles . . . but recovery is far from complete. I believe, however, that as a fellow scientist (Avon wanted to wince, but his face remained impassive) you will understand the importance of this work and why it must be carried to its conclusion." He paused. "You were highly recommended."

I always am. Avon remained silent. He talks too much.

He wondered about the man as much as the request. What to make of him? Geir's story was consistent and despite the man's visionary, even mystical, inclinations, he was not a crank. That had been apparent, curiously, even to her, who always before had let him handle such matters, her distaste for science and its practitioners being so extreme. Not rushing to answer, Avon examined the file the central database had prepared. What was there seemed of little consequence.

But curious fact one: as a graduate student Geir had worked with Ensor (a bad sign). In fact, he had worked on an ORAC prototype, then broke with his teacher and went off to do independent research on machine intelligence. There was no explanation for the break, though a personality conflict was hinted at (not surprising). Thereafter he remained out of sight for nearly three decades until the Star One debacle (his world had been one of those under the control of that poorly thought out computer complex) pushed him into prominence as both a scientist and politician. He had been credited with great political skill for his efforts in bringing conflicting factions together to save his home planet, but that thought Avon was going too far. As a scientist he was brilliant, no denying that. But as a politician he was too naive to be anything other than a hack.

Still, you had to hand it to him for persistence. Not many got through the ultra-tight net of security and protocol to present their case to the Lord Protector, let alone the Lord Protector's superior. The man had earned an answer, if not entirely the one he was seeking.

Click. An entry concerning the project code name of "Terminal" replaced the data on Geir. Curious fact two: Geir's interest, indeed obsession, with Terminal.

The "Terminal" file was bordered in flaming yellow indicating the highest security status (i.e., only general information would be available for inquiry, unless special permission was granted). Yet most of the fields were either flagged "UNKNOWN", or filled with question marks, not "*S*E*C*R*E*T*". So why the elaborate security ringing this incomplete, one might even say prehistoric file?

Briefly, the available facts were this: project initiation date (year 105 Revised Standard, about 470 years ago), duration (50 years), and conclusion ("PRESUMED FAILURE", as the artificial planet -- actually a rebuilt asteroid, the project's primary deliverable -- was nowhere to be found). The entry explained that the project had been initiated to integrate several sciences, among them machine intelligence, molecular mechanics, and genetic engineering. It was believed Terminal was intended to yield and/or test a very advanced and complex evolutionary theory or series of them. The origin of the project name was unknown but was possibly a reference to computer "terminal", and early in the project the artificial planet had taken on the same designate. And a planet it was. Its earth-normal gravity (despite a high rotational velocity -- arguing that a Kerr-type black hole of at least earth mass resided at the core), breathable atmosphere, seasonal variations, and ability to support human habitation (barely), ensured it qualified.

Click. A second screen went into more detail concerning the project outcome. Under "CONJECTURE", a frequent database flag where the distant past was concerned, the analysis noted that most information regarding the project had been presumed destroyed in the Atomic Wars, prior to the Second Vespera. No definitive conclusion regarding the fate of Terminal was therefore possible. The planet had vanished from its orbit at the outbreak of said wars -- was it destroyed? This was likely given the interweave of intense mass/energy fields confined in a relatively small space -- doubts had been expressed about its stability. Yet, if Terminal had imploded, there should have been x-ray seared debris throughout the solar system -- not to mention a nasty black hole. Nothing of the kind, however, had ever been detected.

Terminal, the entry concluded smugly, though it likely had existed, was now a myth and certain to remain so.

It was irritating that she had not consulted with him in more detail before this meeting. If something was being hid, this computer could not, would not, help him. ORAC might. But access to ORAC had been forbidden for years. Since . . . Something was wrong, something was missing -- that much was obvious. The implications might prove interesting.

"I am not a scientist, Dr. Geir. My skills lie in recognizing the military value of proposals. As you understand, the Administration frequently receives requests for support and is usually disappointing to the requesters. I am, however, impressed with the body of your work and while I am not yet ready to give a full recommendation to the President, I feel your research laboratories are worth investigating (following along the script with me, my love?). A visit for purposes of State and science to your home world is justified, though you understand support cannot be promised at this time."

The scientist looked relieved. Actually, he looked like he was going to shout. Instead, Geir let out a sigh.

"My Lord will not regret his decision," he said, dropping each word with measured relief, "I assure you that once you see the progress made on controlling the morphogenetic field . . ."

Avon waved him to silence and logged off the network. This job had its problems. One was the way people carried on in his presence, as if they could never bring themselves to state what they really wanted in a short simple manner before such a figure of awe and terror. Yet there was compensation as well. It was good to be able with a gesture to silence almost anyone.

"I will discuss the matter with the Supreme Commander, President Servalan, shortly. Afterwards, a formal visit should be a routine matter for the diplomatic channels to arrange," he said firmly.

Geir nodded but stopped as if he remembered something important. Even knowing his precarious position, he gave the impression of being less than finished.

Am I to be spared nothing? "Yes?" asked Avon.

"Forgive me, my Lord, I am curious. I have heard that you once met my teacher, Ensor. Is that true?"

Avon hesitated, but there was no easy way to avoid answering. "I'm afraid he was dead before I had a chance to meet him," he answered cautiously. "I can't help you."

The man looked disappointed but nodded in understanding as if he expected little else and was grateful to know the truth. Lord Avon respected that.

"I so hoped you had. I was curious what direction his work had taken after all these years. You were with Blake then, weren't you? Before . . ."

"The 'break'?"

"Yes."

Fact number three: Geir's curiosity about things that could not possibly be relevant. Dangerous things. "For a while. You might say I was unemployed at the time."

"Who was he? I mean, what kind of man was he?"

She knew he was going to ask that! "Blake? As I recall, he was a dull man, Doctor Geir," replied Avon. "I assure you the legend in death eclipses the reality in life. Not meaning to sound callous, but some people are better off dead. He was probably one of them."

Geir rose slowly and continued to pursue his subject as Avon escorted him out (an unusual courtesy, but she had insisted on it -- no doubt part of her continuing program to render his manners commensurate with his titles). "What is death?" the scientist shrugged. "I was curious about him. There was so much I was unaware of -- until Star One, when the universe came crashing in on me. All because of him I'm told. Everybody was talking about him. And you. What did it all mean? I was thinking that having known him, you might attempt an answer."

Avon stopped at the door. "I have always found that 'knowing' a person is one of those concepts like infinity that lacks a bottom. I can't deny spending time with the man, two years to be precise, but I would not say that afterwards I 'knew' him. Perhaps because for most of the time I felt there was so little to know. I apologize for what must appear to be indifference, but life is unforgiving. And some of us," he smiled, "come to mirror that harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos. As you say, the universe has a habit of crashing in when we least expect it."

Then Avon added to Geir and whoever else might be listening, "For all his real suffering, I don't believe he ever understood that."

The scientist nodded, bowed slightly, and then hurriedly exited the room.

 


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